The Royal British Legion is calling on the Government to take urgent action to address the issue of former UK Armed Forces personnel from Commonwealth countries having to pay large sums of money to stay in the UK…

During Service, Commonwealth personnel are exempt from UK immigration controls. But this exemption is removed immediately on discharge. Personnel who leave the Armed Forces after four years of service to the country are eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK. But they have to pay visa application fees that have risen by 127% in the last five years from £1,051 to £2,389.

This means that a Service leaver and their partner have to pay a bill of £4,778 to continue to live in the UK, before taking children and further dependents into account. Since the introduction of fees in 2003, fees have increased overall by 1,441%. If veterans cannot pay these fees, or if their application fails, they can face deportation. Each year around 500 commonwealth personnel leave Service and are faced with these costs should they wish to provide stability for their family by remaining in the UK.

Whilst waiting for a decision on their settlement status, former Service personnel are unable to seek employment, unable to claim benefits or register with a GP. Those in need of support then have to rely on charities, including the Legion. Since 2016 each year up to 400 Commonwealth personnel and their family members have applied for indefinite leave to remain. But each year approximately 500 Commonwealth personnel leave Service and are faced with these costs.

The Legion has provided advice and support to hundreds of members of the Armed Forces community where immigration or visas have been a concern. In the last year, the Legion has spent over £36,000 supporting Commonwealth ex service personnel with immigration issues. Unless a charity such as the Legion can help, veterans and their families who have no means to pay the costs of visas are left with limited options and may be forced to leave the UK.

In 2017, the Army employed approximately 7.1% of its personnel from foreign and Commonwealth nations. Of these, the majority came from countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and Fiji, and are generally concentrated in the lower ranks. In 2016/17, 50 personnel recruited from the Commonwealth left the Royal Navy/Royal Marines, 10 left the RAF, and 450 left the Army. In 2017/18 50 left the Royal Navy and Royal Marines and 440 left the Army.

Charles Byrne, Director General of the Royal British Legion, said: “These Commonwealth veterans are facing a desperate situation. They have left their homeland and given years of loyal service to the United Kingdom. They should be able to continue living in the UK with their families, without incurring significant financial costs.

“This is a poor way of saying thank you to people we encouraged to leave their countries to come to and serve in the British Armed Forces. We urge the Home Secretary to take action to help Commonwealth military veterans who have served this country loyally and abolish all visa application fees.”

The Legion has written to Home Office raising this issue. It is asking for the Government to grant a waiver of fees in the next parliamentary session and abolish the fees altogether going forward. The Legion is also asking people to support its campaign by logging on to the Legion’s website and writing to raise the issue with local constituency MPs.