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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 to remain in the UK after 4 years’ service.

Topical issues and forthcoming public consultation

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.

The Home Office and Ministry of Defence have been discussing how the immigration system could offer greater flexibiity and support to military migrants over recent months. Subject to the departments reaching agreement, the Ministry of Defence is expected to launch a public consultation soon.   

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