MPs have demanded that the Home Office abolish visa fees for Commonwealth soldiers who have served in the British armed forces but can end up paying almost £10,000 for a family of four to settle in the UK.
A cross-party group of more than 130 MPs, coordinated by the Conservative Richard Graham and Labour’s Madeleine Moon, have written to the home secretary, Sajid Javid, calling for the fees to be scrapped.
Commonwealth citizens serving in the British armed forces have the right to apply for indefinite leave to remain after four years of service if they choose to stay in the UK. However, the Royal British Legion (RBL) has said it has serious concerns about the sharp rise in application costs.
Fees for indefinite leave to remain have risen by 127% in five years to £2,389 per person. Since they were introduced in 2003, the fees have risen by 1,441%. The RBL said it provided £36,000 in grants to help pay for visa fees last year.
About 7% of army recruits in 2017 were from Commonwealth countries, mainly African states, the Caribbean and Fiji. They are exempt from UK immigration controls while serving but this expires when they are discharged and those who have served more than four years are eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain. However, if they cannot pay the visa fees, they can face deportation.
MPs are understood to have raised the issue with the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, and the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt.
Graham, who raised the topic with Theresa May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, said: “These men and women are willing to put their life on the line for our country and the current situation doesn’t reflect our and the nation’s respect for them.
“The changes we propose are in line with thearmed forces covenant and would make a real difference to those who’ve shown such commitment to the UK.”
Moon said the UK owed that level of security and confidence to Commonwealth soldiers. “It used to be said an army marches on its stomach. Today an army marches knowing their family is safe and secure,” she said.
Matthew Seward, the RBL’s assistant director for public affairs, said the UK was charging “exorbitant fees to those who have sacrificed so much to serve our country”.
He said the charity was heartened by the support across the House of Commons. “We hope the government will listen to these serious concerns,” he said.
Lidington said the issue would be looked at. “I want to pay tribute to men and women from Commonwealth countries who serve in our armed services. That service is something that this and previous governments have valued enormously,” he told Graham at PMQs.
“On the particular point … about immigration requirements, I am sure the home secretary will take very seriously, and look very carefully at the representations.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government highly values the service of all members of HM forces, including Commonwealth nationals.
“We are committed to upholding our obligations under the armed forces covenant, to ensure that no one who is serving, or who has served, or their family members are disadvantaged as a result of their service.
“Income from fees charged for immigration and nationality applications plays a vital role in our ability to run a sustainable immigration and nationality system and minimise the burden on the taxpayer. The Home Office reviews fees on a yearly basis.”