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Ben Obese-Jecty is a former British Army Infantry Officer and stood as the candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 general Election. He is a member of the Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committee.

It has been nearly two years since I first wrote for Conservative Home about the plight of our Commonwealth veterans and the need to address the issue of costly immigration fees following their service.

During the period since, progress towards achieving the removal of the fees has been slow but steady, with the results of campaigning by several different groups coming to fruition following last summer’s joint announcement of a public consultation on immigration fees by the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office.

In the interim, I have been fortunate enough to be able to contribute to this via my role with the Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committee, just one of the bodies to have provided feedback on the public consultation. The striking element of each conversation I have had about this issue is how support for the waiving of immigration fees has been unanimous.

I have yet to encounter anyone who does not believe that those who have risked their lives in the service of this country should be entitled to reside here with their families without charge upon completion of their service. In today’s febrile and polarised atmosphere of eternal political disagreement, common ground is rare: speaking militarily, it is ground worth holding.

The announcement this week of the delayed results of last summer’s public consultation has been met with a pleasing, if not effusive, response across the veterans’ community; better than expected, but something of a missed opportunity, nonetheless. Whilst the announcement is seen as a positive step, the direction of travel has taken a slightly longer route than would be hoped for.

The Government proposes to waive the £2,389 fee to obtain Indefinite Leave to Remain required for non-UK veterans, including Gurkhas, who have served for at least six years, as well as those who have been medically discharged due to an illness or injury attributable to their service. There are currently over 9,000 service personnel across our Armed Forces who stand to benefit from this policy change in the coming years.

The 2019 Conservative Party manifesto pledged to “acknowledge and commemorate the invaluable contribution of diaspora communities”, and to that end it is critical that we consider all the needs of those communities.

Looking beyond the implementation of the changes announced this week, we must aspire to closing the remaining gaps in the policy and ensure that we provide our non-UK service personnel with an end-to-end solution that allows veterans to settle in the UK following service without penalty and without the hurdles that still remain in the wake of this announcement.

So in order to build upon it, how can we improve upon the forthcoming package of support, and provide non-UK veterans with the same post-service opportunities currently enjoyed by their British counterparts?

In refining and broadening the scope of the measures applied, the key issue missing from the proposal announced this week is the inclusion of immediate family members within the scope of the fees waived.

Whilst individual service personnel now stand to benefit from the removal of fees, their dependents do not. Thus, we may still see non-UK veterans faced with fees of thousands of pounds in order to allow their spouse or their children to live in the UK alongside them.

This is an aspect of the proposal which has been consistently sought by campaign groups and bodies advising on the policy alike, and hence very much feels like an unnecessary oversight that is difficult to comprehend. Any further development must include this as the cornerstone of future policy.

The MOD and the Home Office must also seek to bring into scope those who have already been discharged. Whilst it is very positive to see the inclusion of non-UK veterans who are yet to regularise their immigration status, this appears to be limited only to those currently residing in the UK.

By extending the policy to service personnel who have already left the country, we could help to provide greater opportunity to a small cohort of veterans who have chosen to leave rather than face the financial burden of unaffordable fees.

The decision not to apply this policy retrospectively leaves hundreds of service personnel, some of whom served in our highest tempo kinetic operations in a generation, unable to legally reside in the country that they valiantly risked their lives for. At the very least provision should be made for significant improvement to the resources available to non-UK veterans now living where adequate medical support cannot be accessed.

There are few countries in the world that hold their armed forces in the same esteem that we do. If the Government truly believes in its mission to make Britain the best place in the world to be a veteran, then we must back that sentiment with empathy and generosity, and not squander the opportunity to deliver meaningful change to the veterans’ community.

Our veterans deserve to be treated with the same equality in their civilian life that they enjoy during their service. If we expect those who serve to do so in the knowledge that they may have to make the ultimate sacrifice, we should at least allow them the benefit of sharing the privileges they have risked their lives for us to enjoy.