In light of Remembrance Sunday taking place, this week's street law spotlight will be focusing on the commonwealth heroes that have served for the British armed forces. In particular, the issues armed personnel face when leaving the army and gaining settlement in the UK.
There has been a long history of commonwealth soldiers serving in the British army:
In the First World War ‘Over 3 million soldiers and labourers from across the Empire and commonwealth served alongside the British Army’ ¹. In the Second World War‘ and a half Indian men volunteered’ ² and countless men and women from countries in the Caribbean.
More recently the Royal British Legion estimates that ‘The UK Armed Forces employ about 4,500 commonwealth citizens with many of the recruits hailing from Fiji, Ghana and Saint Vincent.’ ³ This figure is likely to have risen.
The most prominent and recent case detailing immigration issues faced by commonwealth soldiers is the story of ‘Fijian-born soldiers who were given the right to live in the UK despite a legal battle loss’ ⁴. The group stated that they were victims of a mistake in the administrative system, and were not properly informed on how they could claim their legal right to stay after they had left the army. ‘MOD rules state that commonwealth born-service personnel are eligible for indefinite leave to remain in the UK after discharge if they served for four years’ ⁵. This was clearly not explained to the soldiers who thought that the process was automatic. The soldiers were then burdened with immigration fees, which luckily were raised by campaign groups but many soldiers didn’t have this support.
The government recently published an Immigration fees public consultation. ‘The MOD and home office have set out a draft policy proposal to waive fees for non-U.K. service personnel who have met certain criteria.’⁶ The proposal is ‘waive the fee charged for a settlement application for those who have completed the initial engagement period’ ⁷; this is 12 years or more. For soldiers who wish to bring over family members, ‘the fees and suitability requirements are aligned with all other family routes under the immigration rules’ ⁸.
The Royal British Legion ‘stop the service charge’ campaign
Currently, the price of immigration fees for indefinite leave to remain is £2,389. The fees for bringing family members remain the same “The MIR applies to all spouses and children applying to remain under the Armed Forces rules. There are no discretions in place for the Armed Forces. […]
“You must show the income* has been met for at least 6 months. You can combine the joint income of the soldier and spouse. British children and children eligible for indefinite leave do not need to be included.
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
* Income includes money from a pension, cash savings above £16,000 and non-work income such as property rental” ⁹
The main issue that stems from this is that many soldiers will not be able to afford this as they are on basic pay. It must also be noted that many don’t finish the initial engagement period (this is the term that upon joining the army soldiers say they will complete). Forces.net reported that only 20 of the 200 non-U.K. personnel who left in 2019/202 had served between 4-11 years and the average length of service for all U.K. armed forces leavers is ten years. This means that the fees for the majority of soldiers will not be waived, as they do not meet the conditions listed in the consultation. The ‘stop the service charge’ campaign which was run by the Royal British Legion also highlights that the consultation does not cover a personnel’s family, those who more often than not experience the stress of having a loved one overseas deployed to often dangerous areas.
It is important to remember that the history of commonwealth soldiers goes as far back as the First World War and they have continued to work within the British forces, experiencing the same stresses, strains, and sacrifices of any other soldier.
¹ National army museum <https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/commonwealth-and-first-world-war>
² BBC <https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/timeline/factfiles/nonflash/a6651218.shtml> ³ https://www.britishlegion.org.uk/get-involved/remembrance/remembrance-events/commonwealth-day
⁶ Ministry of defence and home office, ‘immigration costs for armed forces personnel (consultation)(July 2021) > accessed 26th August 2021
⁷ Ibid 7
⁸ Ibid 7
⁹ Army families federation, ‘Visas’, <https://aff.org.uk/advice/foreign-commonwealth/visas/>, accessed 27th August 2021