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A one-hour Westminster Hall debate on immigration requirements for non-UK armed forces personnel has been scheduled for 5 January 2022.

Who can join the UK armed forces? Nationality and residence requirements

People applying to join the UK’s armed forces must be either a British or Commonwealth citizen or from the Republic of Ireland (either as a sole or dual national). Gurkhas serve under special and unique arrangements. They remain citizens of Nepal during their service in the Brigade of Gurkhas.

Previously, anyone who wished to join the armed forces also had to meet residency requirements. These have varied over the years. In November 2018 the five-year residency criterion for Commonwealth applicants to the regular armed forces was removed.

Immigration arrangements for military migrants and their family members

Non-British citizens who enlist in HM Forces automatically become exempt from UK immigration control. This means that they do not need immigration permission or a visa to enter and remain in the UK.

Non-British family members of serving armed forces members are not exempt from immigration control. They may be eligible for family visas as a partner or child if they meet the requirements. These include that the sponsoring partner meets the financial (minimum) income requirement of £18,600 per year (or more if non-British children are also included). 

Once service has ended the veteran (and family members) must apply for a visa to remain in the UK or leave the country. Commonwealth/Gurkha ex-servicemen and their families may be eligible for Indefinite Leave in the UK after 4 years’ service.

Topical issues

The Home Office is “listening carefully” to stakeholders’ concerns that aspects of the immigration requirements might unfairly affect military migrants and their families. Examples raised by campaigners are:

  • (In)adequacy of historical measures to ensure military migrants were aware of the need to apply for an immigration status after discharge, and remedies available to those who failed to apply.
  • The impacts of visa application fees on armed forces members/veterans and their families, and the absence of specific fee waivers/concessions for them.
  • The impact of the minimum income requirement for partner/family visas in armed forces cases.

Government proposal for immigration fee waiver

Further to discussions between the Home Office and Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Defence launched a public consultation on a proposal for an immigration fee waiver for non-British armed forces personnel. The consultation ran for 6 weeks between late May and early July 2021. The Government has not yet formally responded to the consultation.

The Government’s proposal would waive the Indefinite Leave application fee for serving members of HM Regular Armed Forces, where they have served at least their initial engagement period of 12 years and wish to remain in the UK after they leave service.

People who are medically discharged before 12 years because of an illness of injury directly attributable to their service would also be eligible for a fee waiver.

The Government does not propose waiving the costs of other visa fees or for applications to naturalise as a British citizen.

The proposed policy would not apply retrospectively and would not offer reimbursement of immigration fees already paid.

Stakeholders have said that the proposal is insufficient. The Royal British Legion is calling for fee waivers for people applying for Indefinite Leave after 4 years’ service, and for family members of non-British personnel.

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