This week the Government has announced that Commonwealth Serving Personnel must pay visa fees of £2,389 unless they have served at least 12 years. This is almost five years longer than the average length of time a UK national serves in the UK Armed Forces.
For the last three years, The Royal British Legion’s Stop the Service Charge campaign has been calling for the Government to scrap fees for military personnel from the Commonwealth and their families, who make similar sacrifices and commitment to our nation, wishing to stay in the UK after service.
In 2020 there were 5,110 commonwealth citizens serving across the Armed Forces. During service, they are exempt from UK immigration controls, but this exemption is removed as soon as they leave the military. Personnel who have served for four years are eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK but must pay visa application fees that have risen from £155 to £2,389 per person since 2003.
Each year around 500 Commonwealth personnel leave service and are faced with these costs should they wish to remain in the UK. Whilst waiting for a decision on their settlement status, they are unable to seek employment, claim benefits or register with a GP. Unless a charity such as the RBL can help, veterans and their families who are unable to pay the costs of visas are left with limited options and may be forced to leave the UK.
The RBL has provided advice and support to hundreds of veterans from the Commonwealth and their families, spending £79,000 in 2020 alone in grants to support those facing immigration or visa issues.
This year marks the centenary of the RBL which was formed in the aftermath of the First World War to fight for the rights of those who had given so much and come back to so little. The RBL’s Stop the Service Charge Campaign highlights how the charity continues to stand with the Armed Forces community and challenge injustices so those who have served and sacrificed on our behalf get the fair treatment and recognition they deserve.
The Royal British Legion’s Director General, Charles Byrne, issued this statement following the announcement:
“The Royal British Legion welcomes the publication of today’s consultation. Although we recognise that the Government is considering abolishing the fees for those Commonwealth Service personnel who have served a minimum of 12 years, we strongly urge them to reduce this term. We firmly believe fees should be abolished after 4 years of service, aligning with when personnel are legally eligible to claim Indefinite Leave to Remain.
Furthermore, this consultation does nothing to address the families of Commonwealth personnel. Their role and support is integral to an effective Armed Forces. They also experience the stresses, strains and sacrifices of service life including accompanying them on postings and supporting them through deployments. Therefore, we believe ILR fees should be waived for personnel and their families.
For the past three years the Royal British Legion has been campaigning for the abolishment of these unfair visa application fees. The current situation is a poor way to say thank you for the military Service of those from the Commonwealth. In order to live up to the promise of the Armed Forces Covenant as a country we can, and must, do better.
We will be responding to the consultation and would strongly encourage others who share our concerns to also respond via the Government’s website.”