Yesterday was the 74th anniversary of VE Day – marking victory in Europe in the Second World War. For me, this anniversary takes on a new significance since joining the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as a Commissioner earlier this year.
Volunteers from across the Commonwealth played a crucial role in defeating fascism, and defending Britain and the values for which it stands. Without the support of Commonwealth, (or Empire, as it still was then) Britain’s war effort may have ended very differently. So it is vital we remember the service of all who played their part in the Second World War, especially those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.
The service of Commonwealth personnel continues to play a vital role in sustaining our Armed Forces. There are today some 4,000 regular and reserves personnel from the Commonwealth in our Armed Forces.
I recently supported calls in Parliament to scrap visa fees for Commonwealth veterans who wish to stay in the UK after leaving service.
Current legislation exempts Commonwealth personnel from immigration controls while serving in the Armed Forces. They are eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain following a minimum of four years’ service. But applications costs for applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain have risen to £2,389, meaning a service leaver with a spouse and two children could face a bill of almost £10,000 to remain in the UK.
As a result of these fees, many Commonwealth service leavers rely on financial support from charities such as the Royal British Legion to meet the cost of visa fees to remain in the UK. Approximately 400 Commonwealth service leavers apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain each year.
It does not seem right to me that those who come to this country volunteering to serve in our Armed Forces, can be presented with a hefty bill if they wish to remain here once their duty is done.
So I felt it right to back this campaign, and have called on the Home Secretary to do the right thing, and waive these fees for good.