Ministers are subjecting the families of Commonwealth military veterans to ‘grossly unfair’ visa fees after requests to waive costly sums for spouses and children were rejected, two MPs have argued.
Labour’s Dan Jarvis and former Conservative minister Johnny Mercer have criticized the government for scrapping the £2,389 immigration bill just for long-serving veterans.
The Ministry of Defense and Home Office had planned to announce the fee waiver, which would have applied to Nepali, Fijian and other Commonwealth veterans who had served six years or more on Wednesday.
But excluding partners and dependants, MPs said on Tuesday night veterans would still face thousands of pounds of Home Office bills to resolve their family’s immigration status when they would be released from service.
‘We remain concerned that families continue to be sidelined – this equates to a 25% reduction on a £10,000 visa fee bill for a family of four,’ said the two deputies. “It is deeply unfair for the government to take advantage of them exercising their right to stay in the country they risked their lives for.”
The two MPs, both veterans, went public the day before the announcement, saying people who had a “long and proud history” of service in the British Armed Forces would still be treated badly.
Britain has long used foreign-born soldiers in its armed forces. Almost 7% of the troops come from outside the UK, including Nepali Gurkhas and Fijians, who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Veterans who served a minimum period were eligible for British citizenship, but bureaucratic errors, poor advice and increased fees left some as illegal immigrants in the country for which they once served.
One, Taitusi Ratacaucau, was told he had to pay over £50,000 to cover NHS hospital bills after an emergency operation to remove a brain tumor in 2020 because he was no longer considered a British citizen.
Ratacaucau and seven others unsuccessfully tried to win a legal battle to have their visa fees waived – but were finally granted permission to remain in the UK by the Home Office last year after a highly publicized campaign.
Campaign group Citizenship4Soldiers said it also wants ministers to ensure the fee waiver is backdated, estimating that 600 Fijian veterans could benefit. The group also expressed concern that “families have been excluded”.
Ben Wallace, the Defense Secretary, said he was “delighted to announce” that serving personnel and veterans who have served for six years or more “will no longer have to pay visa fees”. This decision was an “important step to express our sincere gratitude”, added the minister.