War Heroes From The Commonwealth Must Pay Thousands To Stay In The UK

War Heroes From The Commonwealth Must Pay Thousands To Stay In The UK
Commonwealth military veterans who have served in the British military are being forced to pay thousands of pounds in visa fees, following their discharge from the services.
Highlighting the issue on Commonwealth Day, the Royal British Legion charity (RBL) called for the immediate abolition of visa application fees for military personnel from Commonwealth countries, which have left some facing deportation.
More than 6,000 Commonwealth personnel who are currently serving in the armed forces are exempt from immigration controls, but this is removed immediately on discharge.

Those who have served for four years or more are eligible to apply to stay in the UK. However, they must still pay the visa application fees, which have risen from £1,051 in 2015 to £2,389. This means a service leaver and their partner with two children face paying nearly £10,000 to continue to live in the UK.

It affects about 500 personnel each year, the charity said.

Since 2018, the UK armed forces have committed to recruiting 1,350 people from Commonwealth countries each year, up from a previous target of 200. The majority come from Africa, the Caribbean and Fiji, and are usually of lower rank.

Charles Byrne, RBL director general, said: “These Commonwealth veterans are facing a desperate situation.” Calling on the government to take action he said:  “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 and come to serve in the British armed forces. Monday is Commonwealth Day and 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.”

One of the main reasons the former military personnel, many who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, cannot afford the visa fees is that while waiting for a decision on their settlement status, they are unable to seek employment, claim benefits or register with aGP.

Many have to rely on charities, such as the RBL, which has already assisted in 561 such cases, providing advice and support where immigration or visas have been a concern.

The RBL launched its campaign, Stop the Service Charge, a year ago. It is calling on the government to grant a waiver of fees in the next parliamentary session, and to abolish them altogether after that, and has urged supporters to write to their MP on the issue.

Hannah Swart, whose South African husband, Dewald, serves with the British army, said: “Having to pay these fees has made life very challenging for myself and my family.

“My husband has served this country for over 10 years and I feel it’s unfair that we have to pay these huge costs for ourselves and our children to remain in the UK.

“The government must urgently change its policy so others don’t have to go through the stress and uncertainty we’ve had to go through.” An anonymous benefactor has now stepped in to help the family.


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