Tory MPs intervene in Commonwealth veterans immigration row | UK news

Senior Conservative MPs have called on the government to look into the cases of Commonwealth-born military veterans who are struggling with complex and expensive immigration rules after leaving the army.

Lawyers representing the soldiers, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said that after the Guardian highlighted the situation on Sunday they have been contacted by veterans from Fiji and South Africa who returned home after being unable to negotiate the post-discharge immigration system.

The lawyers said the situation resembled the immigration problems faced by UK citizens from the Windrush generation, with “hundreds, if not thousands of veterans left in limbo”.

Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Territorial Army, said ministers should look at the situation.

“It’s hard to imagine people more entitled to live on our islands than those who have fought to defend them,” said Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons foreign affairs committee. “We need to look hard at these cases and ensure we support those who should have been able to stay all along.”

Under Ministry of Defence rules, Commonwealth-born military personnel who have served four years or more are eligible for indefinite leave to remain in the UK after discharge.

However, the claimants say the army failed to tell them they needed to make an immediate application to the Home Office once they left the military. They also say increased visa fees are unaffordable, with a former soldier who has a partner and two children needing to pay nearly £10,000 to continue for them all to live in the UK.

The government has declined to expand on a statement saying that while it could it comment on the legal case, the MoD “makes clear to foreign and Commonwealth recruits into the forces the process by which they and their families can attain settlement in the UK, and the costs involved”.

Andrew Mitchell, the veteran Tory MP and former international development secretary, said: “This does seem wrong. I hope the Home Office will rectify this quickly and save these former British soldiers from the trauma of court proceedings and further delay.”

Opposition parties have also highlighted the situation, with Labour’s shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, saying the veterans were “justifiably angry”.

She added: “If they are good enough for the armed services and putting themselves in danger, then surely they and their families must be good enough to reside in this country without having to pay thousands of extra pounds.”

The Liberal Democrats’ defence spokesman, Jamie Stone, writing to Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, seeking funding in Wednesday’s Budget to waive immigration fees for veterans.

“Many of those who have applied have been forced to spend a large amount of their resettlement packages or take out big loans in order to pay for the fees,” Stone wrote. “This makes their transition into civilian life harder and is an unfair burden on those who have already contributed so much.”

Lawyer Vinita Templeton is bringing the unprecedented group action on behalf of eight men, who were all recruited to the army from Fiji. They say they were not told they needed to immediately reply for leave to remain after being discharged, and had assumed the immigration process was automatic.

As a result of the immigration problems, some lost their jobs, while others have avoided contact with the authorities.

Sarah Pinder, a junior barrister from Goldsmith Chambers, which is working with Templeton, said: “Overnight, we have already been contacted by several other veterans, from Fiji and South Africa, who had decided to return home but who shared identical experiences to our existing clients and disputed the MOD’s response.

“Like Windrush, it is very quickly becoming apparent how big an issue this is with hundreds, if not thousands of veterans left in limbo who regrettably also cut their losses and left their country of service and sacrifice.”

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