Tory rebellion looms over visa fees for Commonwealth veterans who fought for Britain

·3 min read
Veterans march along Whitehall during the Remembrance Sunday ceremony - Getty Images Europe
Veterans march along Whitehall during the Remembrance Sunday ceremony - Getty Images Europe

A Tory rebellion looms on Tuesday over visa fees charged to Commonwealth veterans who want to stay in Britain after leaving the Armed Forces.

Johnny Mercer, the former Conservative defence minister, and Dan Jarvis, the Labour MP, are spearheading a cross-party campaign to scrap the “steep” charges for ex-personnel who want to regularise their immigration status.

The two men, who are both British Army veterans themselves, have tabled an amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill on Tuesday that would see the fees lifted for all Commonwealth veterans who have served a minimum of five years in the UK military.

It would also remove the fees charged for visas for their spouses and children, which can run to thousands of pounds.

At present, foreigners who have served in the UK Armed Forces are charged £2,389 for visas to regularise their immigration status. Once fees for dependents are taken into account, the charges can total more than £10,000 for a family of four.

Several senior Tory MPs have lined up alongside Labour, the Lib Dems and SNP to back the amendment, including Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee, and Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of the defence select committee.

William Wragg, fellow select committee chairman, and Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, are also set to rebel in favour of the move.

Mr Mercer declared: “Servicemen and women from foreign and Commonwealth nations have to pay to live in the UK afterwards. This is totally wrong; it’s not who we are.”

'If you can fight alongside us, you can live alongside us'

His sentiments were echoed by Mr Tugendhat, who said: “If you fight alongside us, you can live alongside us.”

Military charities including Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion have also backed proposals to scrap the fees.

Last year there were 5,110 Commonwealth citizens serving in Britain’s military. Around 500 leave each year, of which a proportion tend to wish to remain in the UK.

Ministers have vowed to tackle the visa fees issue, but have put forward less generous terms, suggesting they should be scrapped only for those veterans who have completed 12 years of service. The Government’s proposals would not extend to family members either.

Mr Mercer branded the blueprint, which has been put out to consultation, “ridiculous” and added: “There is no conceivable argument why we wouldn’t look after these people properly.”

Mr Jarvis, who is also the Mayor of South Yorkshire and a Labour MP, said: “Despite the sacrifice made by foreign and Commonwealth-born members of our Armed Forces, they face a shameful choice if they wish to make a home in the country for which they risked their lives. Pay thousands of pounds in Home Office costs or pack their bags.

“The result has meant some veterans have been handed massive NHS bills and threatened with deportation. This disgraceful treatment must end.”

Legal action taken over immigration 'limbo'

Last year a group of eight Fijian veterans who served in the British military launched legal action against the Government after being left for years in “limbo” over their immigration status. They were finally granted leave to remain in the UK this summer.

Tory MPs urged the Home Office to create exemptions for foreign personnel in the military, arguing that they made a unique contribution to the protection of the nation.

On Monday, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said: “The Government is determined to address the issue of visa fees for the UK’s foreign born service personnel and earlier this year we launched a consultation to see if more could be done.

“Any new policy must be fair, and this amendment would unfairly impact British service personnel who marry or have dependents from countries outside the UK.

“The proposed period of 12 years is in line with the length of time personnel initially sign up to serve, and takes into account the significant investment in their skills and training.”

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