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Fair treatment for Commonwealth personnel in the armed forces

Published Thursday, May 2, 2019

A Westminster Hall debate on ‘Fair treatment for Commonwealth personnel in the armed forces’ has been scheduled for Wednesday 8 May 2019 from 2.30pm to 4.00pm. The debate has been initiated by Mr Paul Sweeney MP.

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Commonwealth citizens and those from the Republic of Ireland serve on the same terms of service as UK citizens and receive the same, pay, allowances, compensation, healthcare, benefits, welfare support and pensions. They are also subject to the same disciplinary procedures, honours, and awards as British soldiers.

In November 2018 the Government also removed the 5-year residency requirement for Commonwealth personnel wishing to enlist in the UK Armed Forces, in order to increase the number of Commonwealth recruits to 1,350 per year.

However, for Commonwealth soldiers wishing to bring family to the UK, there are a number of requirements which must be met in order for those family members to enter and remain in the UK. In addition to a valid passport and visa, individuals must also meet the English language requirement and suitability criteria relating to certain criminal convictions, including previous breaches of the UK’s immigration laws.

Primarily, however, there is a Minimum Income Requirement which a Commonwealth soldier must meet before they can bring family to the UK:

  1. Gross annual income* of at least £18,600
  2. An additional £3,800 for the first child** and an additional £2,400 for each additional child. If applying for children separately, then the level of financial requirement to be met will depend upon the number of children who already have leave or who are applying for leave.
  3. Partner with no children – £18,600 1 child in addition to the partner – £22,400 2 children in addition to the partner – £24,800 3 children in addition to the partner – £27,200
  4. * income includes income from pensions, maternity allowance or bereavement benefit or specified benefit relating to service in HM Forces
  5. ** British Children /EEA nationals/ and those with ILR or applying for ILE on entry to the UK will not need to meet the financial requirement.

There are no exemptions from this requirement and the guidance states that “If you cannot meet the requirement, then you are advised not to apply to bring your family over”. As a result, many Commonwealth soldiers leave their families at home or are taking second jobs in order to meet the affordability criteria.

In addition, a cross-party group of over 130 MPs, led by Richard Graham and Madeleine Moon, are calling for visas fees for Commonwealth personnel to be waived. The British Legion is campaigning to “Stop the Service Charge” for Commonwealth personnel who wish to apply to remain in the UK with their spouse/dependents after they leave the armed forces. Commonwealth veterans are eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain after four years’ service.  The current application fee for indefinite leave to remain is £2,389. The fee is the same for main applicants and dependents. Applications for indefinite leave to remain for a family of four, for example, would therefore result in total application fees of £9,556. The Legion says “unlike their UK national colleagues, these personnel and their families can only continue to live in the country they’ve served at a significant financial cost. This is unfair and should end”. The Home Office says it has no plans to remove visa fees, saying “it would be unfair if certain applicants or routes benefited from free applications or reduced fees”.

This has been an issue of some concern to welfare charities who have argued that it breaches the Armed Forces Covenant’s obligation to ensure that soldiers are not unfairly disadvantaged due to their service.

The MoD has said that it “acknowledges that more needs to be done to improve awareness of non-British immigration issues amongst personnel and the Chain of Command, and this is subject to ongoing work” (Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2018).

Commons Debate packs CDP-2019-0107

Authors: Timothy Robinson; Claire Mills

Topic: Armed forces

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