Commonwealth Servicemen and Women

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons on 20th May 2019.

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Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

What progress the Government have made on abolishing application fees for the right for indefinite leave to remain for Commonwealth servicemen and women.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

As we discussed in an excellent Westminster Hall debate in the week before last, Commonwealth servicemen and women make an important contribution to our armed forces capability. The visa application process is Home Office-led, but I do agree that there is a moral case for abolishing the visa application fees, and we continue to have discussions with the Home Office to make this case.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

In her first departmental questions, may I warmly congratulate our first ever female Defence Secretary?

I thank the Minister for his continued support on this cross-party cause, about which my letter has been signed by almost 150 MPs from five parties in this House. While I recognise what he has said about the possibility of precedents being set by changes to the immigration legislation, does my right hon. Friend agree that it should be perfectly possible to make an amendment to the armed forces provision in the Immigration Act 1971 so that our Commonwealth servicemen and women can apply free of charge?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and we are certainly looking at that Act. The starting salary that someone receives when they come in to join the armed forces does meet the threshold that the Home Office requires. The trouble is when they wish to bring in a spouse or partner, or indeed their children, as that is when they run into the additional minimum income thresholds. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the fact that the over 4,500 Commonwealth members of our armed forces and the over 3,000 Gurkhas make such a valid and important contribution to our capability.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I agree with everything that has just been said by Richard Graham. Could the Minister talk to his opposite number at the Home Office? I have had cases of constituents who have travelled halfway across the world, signed up for the armed forces and then, when they leave the armed forces, are not entitled to benefits because their immigration status has not been sorted out. That seems to me to be a fairly miserable way to treat people.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which also came up in the debate. It is important when such people embark on this journey—when they sign the papers and endeavour to come to the UK—that they are fully aware of the current situation. The families federations, with which we work very closely, have made the case that it is not even clear to those actually embarking on the journey that, although it is okay for them to come across, they will bump into a financial burden should they wish to bring in their family, and we need to move forward on that.