Gurkha soldiers from Nepal are among those who have served in the British Army with distinction.

by Nadeem Badshah FORMER UK military staff from Commonwealth countries should be exempt from paying “rocketing” immigration fees to settle in Britain, campaigners have said. Personnel who leave the Armed Forces after four years of service have to pay visa application costs that have risen by 127 per cent in the last five years, up from £1,051 to £2,389. Each year, around 500 personnel from Commonwealth nations, including India and Pakistan, leave the military. They are faced with paying the fees if they wish to remain in the UK and bring family members over. During service, Commonwealth personnel are exempt from paying the fees. While waiting for a decision on their settlement status, former troops are unable to work, claim benefits, or register with a GP. The Royal British Legion is calling for the rule to be scrapped, and has been backed by MPs and families of war heroes. Jaimal Singh Johal is the grandson of British Indian Army Subedar Manta Singh, who died fighting in France in 1915. His father Colonel Assa and uncle Mohar served in the same regiment during the Second World War. Johal told Eastern Eye: “They have committed everything to Britain. I am in favour [of the rule being scrapped]. The descendants of those who sacrificed should be given some preference. “The fees are quite high. When we registered for British citizenship, the fee was nominal. They should be given help if they have given something to Britain and not be charged so much money.” A former soldier from a Commonwealth nation and their partner have to pay £4,778 to continue to live in the UK. Since their introduction in 2003, fees have increased overall by 1,441 per cent. If veterans cannot pay the fees, they face deportation. Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, whose maternal great grandfather served in the Indian Army in Burma, told Eastern Eye: “I absolutely agree with the British Legion. They have given a huge amount of service to the Army. “The least we can do when people are prepared to put their lives at risk is reward their loyalty and bravery. Treating them like this is another example of how toxic the government’s immigration policy is. We cannot allow this silly policy by Conservative ministers. These soldiers allowed us to learn about bravery and loyalty by putting themselves in harm’s way.” Since 2016, up to 400 Commonwealth personnel and their family members every year have applied for indefinite leave to remain. In 2017-2018, 50 personnel recruited from the Commonwealth left the Royal Navy and Royal Marines and 440 left the Army. In the past year, the British Legion has spent over £36,000 supporting former Commonwealth service personnel with immigration problems. Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi said: “The government needs to do much more to show how valued our dedicated service personnel are. Commonwealth personnel who have served in our British Armed Forces and have made pending applications for indefinite leave to remain is an issue of concern for many constituents”. Charles Byrne, director general of the Royal British Legion, said: “These Commonwealth veterans are facing a desperate situation. They have left their homeland and given years of loyal service to the UK. They should be able to continue living in the UK with their families, without incurring significant financial costs.” The government said it has no current plans to exempt Commonwealth nationals who served in the armed forces from the fees, but the Home Office is discussing the issue with Ministry of Defence officials.