Families of Commonwealth Soldiers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:03 pm on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration 8:03 pm, 5th March 2019

Well, of course. I think I have already indicated that we have to look at the needs of not only service personnel and former service personnel but their families when considering our obligations under the covenant.

As the subject of today’s debate is families of commonwealth soldiers, I trust that hon. Members would find it helpful if I set out some of the Government’s policy background. From December 2013, a dedicated part of the immigration rules known as “Appendix Armed Forces” was introduced. As the name suggests, it was developed especially for the family members of those who had chosen to enlist as members of Her Majesty’s forces. The purpose of the change was to align dedicated routes with the broader immigration framework. It was also designed, with joint input from the MOD, to ensure that the provisions therein fulfilled our obligations under the armed forces covenant. Although the military sponsor remains exempt from immigration controls for the duration of their service, family members who come to the UK to join them are considered under the dedicated rules for Her Majesty’s forces families in “Appendix Armed Forces”.

As members of Her Majesty’s forces are regularly posted abroad and their families are rightly encouraged to accompany them, the rules make special provisions to account for that. First, a standard grant of limited leave for Her Majesty’s forces family members is for five years, rather than the 30 months that is standard for other family applications. Importantly, that saves them the cost of a second application fee. Secondly, time spent overseas on an accompanied posting is treated as time spent in the UK for immigration purposes. That means that any time spent accompanying their partner or parent on an overseas posting does not prejudice their eligibility for settlement after spending five years with limited leave. We are proud of our continuing commitment to our armed forces and their family members, including Commonwealth nationals who bravely offer their service to Her Majesty the Queen and our country. As I have indicated, I am committed to ensuring we uphold our obligations and do right by all members of the forces and their families.

As the Minister with overall responsibility for immigration matters, I am acutely aware that some of the applications received by my Department fall into what can be called the “complex cases”. I thank the hon. Gentleman for taking the trouble to set out his constituents’ cases in such detail. He will of course know that I cannot comment on the detail of individual cases on the Floor of the House. I hope he will understand that I can speak only in general terms. Without going into specifics, I accept that applications involving families can involve a variety of reasons, as family dynamics themselves can become ever more complex. This is not isolated from marriage or relationship breakdowns, the setting up of new family units and myriad other causes.

Although I shall certainly not speak about specifics, it is important to explain some of the background. These applications can be, by their very nature, time-consuming for decision makers to consider, and I make no apology for that. Although we are striving to have more streamlined processes, we must never lose sight of the fact that one of our primary duties is the protection of the public. That is especially true when we are looking at applications made on behalf of children. In some cases, the application may not have been properly completed, or there might be gaps in the provision of the information that we require to make a sound, well-balanced decision. In some instances, it may well be that we ask for more information, or that we ask to speak to the sponsor. Such additional measures are taken only when it would assist the decision-making process and other options have been exhausted. Understandably, that might be frustrating for some sponsors or applicants, but we will do it only to safeguard the interests of the applicant. All Members will be aware that we have statutory obligations to minors and to others who may be vulnerable for other reasons. Again, I make no apology for officials being assiduous in making responsible decisions.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I are conscious of the hon. Gentleman’s point about the income threshold and how it might affect Army families. Although I stand firmly by the principle of the minimum income threshold, I reassure the hon. Gentleman that I have listened carefully to the points he has made this evening.

The Government have a proud tradition of supporting our armed forces and recognising the invaluable service that they give to the United Kingdom, and that includes Commonwealth nationals who come to the UK to serve in the forces. That is one reason why we explicitly provide for Commonwealth personnel to obtain settled status after they have discharged, enabling them to remain in the UK permanently and, if they wish, to become British citizens. We also recognise the valuable role that families play in supporting our armed forces, which is why we have immigration rules specifically for forces family members. We greatly value the contribution and sacrifices made by Commonwealth members of the forces, and their families, in ensuring the security of the UK and protecting our citizens. We want them to go on playing an important role in our armed forces, and we are committed to upholding our obligations to them.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.