Defence minister Johnny Mercer calls on Treasury to fork out thousands of pounds for hero Commonwealth veterans who are forced to pay for visas to stay in the UK
- Defence minister Johnny Mercer wants to help Commonwealth military veterans
- Commonwealth citizens can apply for indefinite leave to remain after four years
- However, they face bills of up to £10,000 if they have a partner and two children
- Mr Mercer said there is a row over which department should pick up the bill
Whitehall is at war over Commonwealth veterans who are forced to fork out thousands of pounds to remain in Britain.
Defence minister Johnny Mercer says the MoD and the Home Office disagree on who should cover the bill for visas.
Mr Mercer, who is in charge of the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, called on the Treasury to step in with the cash. He was backed yesterday by Michael Gove, who is responsible for veterans at Cabinet level.
Defence minister Johnny Mercer says the MoD and the Home Office disagree on who should cover the bill for visas for Commonwealth veterans
Commonwealth veterans who serve four years with the armed forces are entitled to apply for indefinite leave to remain
Commonwealth sailors complain about Royal Navy’s ‘discrimination’
Commonwealth sailors are banned from parts of Royal Navy ships because of security fears, they complained yesterday.
Aaron Dickson, 43, who has been in the Navy for 17 years, said the rules left many of his comrades ’embarrassed and demoralised’.
The petty officer, who is from Saint Vincent in the Caribbean, said: ‘When it comes to equality and diversity, that’s out of the window straight away.
‘If you have 180 people serving in a ship, doing the same job, you would think everyone would be allowed to go in every compartment.’
The Royal Navy allows only British citizens into the operations room and the secure information room on its vessels. That rules out Commonwealth recruits even though they are trusted to fight.
Aaron Dickson, 43, who has been in the Navy for 17 years, said the rules left many of his comrades ’embarrassed and demoralised’
Speaking on board HMS Westminster in Portsmouth, the Cabinet Office minister blasted his own Government’s policy as ‘ridiculous’. The ministers were visiting the frigate to launch an advisory board comprising prominent ex-service personnel and experts.
Commonwealth citizens serving in the Armed Forces have the right to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK after four years in uniform. But a service leaver with a partner and two children could face a bill of almost £10,000 to obtain a visa, according to the Royal British Legion.
If they cannot afford to pay up they face deportation.
Mr Mercer is seeking a path to citizenship that will save the veterans huge expense.
They also face problems when their salaries are too low for family members to qualify for a visa under strict immigration rules.
Mr Mercer said: ‘It’s a classic Office for Veterans’ Affairs issue because it has always been fought out between the MoD and the Home Office as to who is going to foot the bill for it.’
Referring to a sailor who had left the Royal Navy, Mr Mercer said: ‘He has just paid £12,500 to stay in this country with his family despite having served 12 years.’
Mr Gove responded: ‘That’s ridiculous, we should be paying. If you served in uniform for 12 years then you’ve done more for this country than any of us can rate or value.’
Another former sailor told the ministers: ‘It took me five years of saving everything I had for me and my family.’
Mr Mercer replied: ‘If we can get the money, we can sort this out. They add so much – Fijians, Jamaicans, Barbadians – yet £12,500 for a young family to settle.
‘Some of the kids were born here, we can’t ask them to leave. We’ve got to sort this out.’
Mr Gove told the sailors: ‘You’ve convinced Johnny and you’ve certainly convinced me that we need to change. We’ll try and make sure we can refund the money.’
Around 10 per cent of the 190 crew of HMS Westminster are from Commonwealth countries.