Leaving the Army is a big step, but for those with citizenship and visa issues to sort it can be doubly complex. AFF F&C Specialist Katherine Houlston explains more…
THE British Nationality Act allows soldiers to apply for citizenship whilst serving as long as they have been in the UK for five years and have no criminal convictions.
If a soldier is not eligible or doesn’t wish to become a British citizen, then the only option is to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).
The immigration rules don’t allow for soldiers to hold both an exempt stamp and ILR, so F&C soldiers are required to wait until they are discharged before they get their ILR.
Can my soldier apply for ILR in advance of discharge?
Yes, up to ten weeks in advance but the residence permit won’t be sent out until up to a week after discharge.
What does ILR cost?
Each application is £2,297. Charities will not pay for this and you can’t rely on any pension lump sums to be available in time to make the application.
Why can’t my soldier remain on their exempt stamp?
It is effectively cancelled on their day of discharge. Units are supposed to notify the Home Office of a soldier’s discharge; the soldier is then sent a letter advising that they have 28 days to remain in the UK during which they should apply for leave to remain if they haven’t already done so.
Can my soldier apply for jobs prior to discharge?
Soldiers who apply up to ten weeks prior to discharge should be sent a letter which explains to any prospective employer that a visa has been applied for and should be issued following discharge. Employers are under no obligation to accept this and some may be reluctant to offer jobs until your soldier is able to produce the correct evidence.
This is not surprising given the huge fines that employers receive if caught employing people who aren’t eligible to work.
What about housing?
Social housing varies between each local authority. Some may be reluctant to register a soldier who again doesn’t have the right evidence of legal status. If your soldier isn’t able to register until after their discharge, there won’t be enough time for housing to become available before they are liable for SFA charges and associated court costs. Most local authorities don’t have spare housing that you can move into immediately, so a better option would be to find a private landlord. Be aware that landlords also face fines if they rent to people not legally in the UK.
What should the unit be doing?
Welfare officers aren’t trained to give immigration advice, but they should ensure that your soldier is discharged correctly and informed about the requirement to apply for ILR prior to discharge at least three months before they leave. The unit should ask your soldier to sign a discharge proforma to show that they are aware of the requirement to apply for ILR within 28 days if they don’t hold citizenship.
What can you and your soldier do to prepare?
- Ensure you understand the immigration status of you and your soldier, including what you are both eligible for and when.
- The AFF website (aff.org.uk) has lots of information, or contact our F&C enquiry service.
- Start saving for visas/citizenship applications.
- Check out moneyforce.org.uk for advice about your finances.
- Use the AFF website’s transition pages for housing and employment support for families and soldiers.
Case study: Michael Aberdeen
“My medical discharge was very unfortunate. On my last day in the unit someone from HQ admin asked if I had my British passport already. I said I hadn’t and he explained that I would get a letter informing me of my deadline to make an application to remain. I was discharged in September 2016 and made my application for citizenship on 9 November 2016. I thought that it would be processed in a few months and I would then be able to get a job, but a year later I hadn’t heard anything. I then received a letter stating that I had to make an application to remain in the UK by 20 September 2017. I was so confused; in the end I applied for ILR because I was scared of being sent home, but I couldn’t afford to pay for the application as I have not been able to work, so it was rejected and the Home Office kept my passport because I was an overstayer. I was in a constant state of panic that I would be removed from the UK, taken away from my family and not allowed to return.”
Michael contacted us at the end of October. We were able to liaise with contacts at the Home Office and his application was granted just before Christmas.
Case study: Patrick Kamdaya
“I had served for three years and ten months when I was discharged for a knee injury sustained whilst on exercise. My personnel recovery officer (PRO) brought me along to an F&C presentation and Katherine Houlston gave me advice and a covering letter to assist with my ILR application which was made eight weeks prior to discharge. She also explained my immigration status to my potential employer.
“By the time of my discharge date, I had moved into social housing and had a job offer. It’s been hectic but with the help of the AFF and my PRO everything seems to be working.”
He was granted ILR six weeks after applying.