Visa costs for overseas veterans should be scrapped, says charity
Poppyscotland said people from Commonwealth countries should not have to shell out to remain in the country they served.
An armed forces charity is backing calls for the Government to scrap visa costs for veterans from overseas who want to remain in the UK.
Poppyscotland said servicemen and women from Commonwealth countries have endured a steep rise in the application fee to stay in the country after being discharged, when they are no longer exempt from UK immigration controls.
The cost has more than doubled in the last five years to £2,389, the charity said, leaving ex-service personnel and their families facing a significant payout or deportation.
This is a poor way of saying ‘thank you’ to people we encouraged to leave their countries to come to and serve in the British armed forces Mark Bibbey, Poppyscotland
Chief executive Mark Bibbey said: “Commonwealth veterans who have left their homeland and given years of loyal service deserve our gratitude and to have the opportunity to remain in the country they have served, without incurring significant financial costs.
“This is a poor way of saying ‘thank you’ to people we encouraged to leave their countries to come to and serve in the British armed forces.
“Accordingly, we are joining the Royal British Legion in urging the Home Secretary to take action to help Commonwealth military veterans who have served this country loyally and abolish all visa application fees.”
Poppyscotland said it regularly supports veterans waiting for a decision on their settled status when they are not able to seek work or claim benefits.
Jone Tolutinkaono from Fiji spent seven years in the Royal Scots and served in Northern Ireland and Iraq before being medically discharged in 2006 after a serious knee injury.
He received funding from the charity to complete a course to become an excavator driver.
The 48-year-old, who has four children with wife Karaleani, said visa application fees then cost him around £700 and it is not certain his family could have remained in Scotland if they had faced the current charge.
Mr Tolutinkaono, who lives in Edinburgh, said: “I was lucky but the situation is completely different now.
“I do not know what I would have done if that had been the level of the fees back when I applied.
“All veterans should have the right to remain. They have served and protected the country, and many, like me, have come to regard the United Kingdom as home.
“But now, people are struggling with the costs. I think it’s too expensive.”
According to Poppyscotland, the Army employed around 7.1% of its personnel from foreign and Commonwealth nations in 2017, the majority from African and Caribbean countries, and Fiji.
The UK Government said it was committed to upholding obligations under the Armed Forces Covenant to ensure no current or former personnel are disadvantaged as a result of their service, and that fees are reviewed on a yearly basis.