- The Government has announced that Commonwealth veterans who have served for at least six years or have been medically discharged will no longer have to pay visa fees to remain in the UK
- However, those who have served for less than six years, and family members are not included, meaning a family of four could still have to pay more than £7,000 to stay in the UK
- For the last three years, the Royal British Legion has been calling on the Government to abolish the visa charges of nearly £2,500 faced by hundreds of Commonwealth veterans and family members who wish to stay in the UK
The Royal British Legion’s Director General, Charles Byrne, said,
‘Whilst we welcome the news that these fees will be waived for some Commonwealth Service personnel, this proposal still leaves many Armed Forces families facing severe hardship. We strongly urge the Government to go further and scrap these unfair charges for everyone who has served for at least four years and their immediate family members.
‘In recent years, at least half of those who have accessed the RBL’s support for visa and immigration costs have been the spouses and children, often living in desperate situations. In addition to the financial costs, some have been forced to leave the UK, becoming separated from loved ones for long periods of time and experiencing great emotional suffering.
‘The RBL believes this latest proposal is contradictory to the pledges made by the Government in the Armed Forces Covenant and that as a country we can, and must, do better. The sacrifices and commitment of those who come from the Commonwealth to serve our nation, and their families should not be forgotten.’
Today the Government has announced that Commonwealth Serving Personnel must pay visa fees of £2,389 unless they have served at least 6 years or been discharged through injury or illness.
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, wishing to stay in the UK after service.
In 2021 there were 6,380 personnel serving in the UK Armed Forces of non-UK nationality. 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 the home office receives around 400 applications for indefinite leave to remain from personnel leaving service and their families. Whilst waiting for a decision on their settlement status, veterans 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 dependent families, spending around £150,000 in grants since the Stop the Service Charge campaign was launched in 2019 to support those facing immigration or visa issues. In recent years, at least half of those who have needed support for visa and immigration costs from RBL are dependent partners or children.
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.