AFF’s Foreign & Commonwealth team is being approached by an increasing number of non-UK families struggling to cope with the additional cost of living pressures they face. Here, our F&C Specialist Katherine Houlston looks at some of these extra costs…


One of the biggest financial pressures is the cost of visas. A visa to enter the UK is now £1,548 per person, then after five years the fee for indefinite leave (ILR) currently stands at £2,404. So a soldier with a spouse and two children will spend more than £10,000 on visas alone.

Separation due to the minimum income requirement

The minimum income required to bring a spouse and one child to the UK is £22,400. To bring a spouse and two children, it goes up to £24,800. Soldiers not earning enough money to bring their families to the UK often send the majority of their wages back home to support them.

Travel costs

In addition to this responsibility, service personnel could also be spending thousands more on flights home to visit their family. The current average return flight to Fiji or St Vincent, for example, is around £1,500. Families in St Vincent (where a lot of our current non-UK serving personnel are originally from), who are joining the soldier in the UK, must first fly to Barbados to have their biometrics taken as there is no visa application centre in St Vincent. The additional cost of this is over £500 per person.

Supporting the community back home

AFF F&C advisor Suli Tuiteci, who is Fijian, explains that in some cultures there is often an expectation to send money home: “In Fiji, it stems from a communal system where giving and receiving is reciprocal.

“You give to your family, village or community and they give back to you in your time of need,” she adds.

“Unfortunately, moving away from the community means that you just bear the continuous financial costs of always giving, but miss out on the receiving end of that cycle.

“We also bear a sense of duty to our parents, our elders and people who looked after us when we were growing up.

“This is our tradition, it’s always been done this way, so we continue, but with the cost of living being so high it has a big impact on the families who have moved away and who are struggling to make ends meet.”

Access to benefits

Partners/spouses in the UK on limited leave visas have no recourse to public funds (NRPF). There are legal repercussions if you make claims that you’re not entitled to.

However, the UKVI guidance makes it clear that a person subject to immigration control is not considered to be illegally accessing public funds if their partner is entitled to claim them in their own right.

Soldiers are entitled to claim benefits because of their exempt status. Therefore all soldiers with children can make a claim for child benefit regardless of the immigration status of the child or of the non-serving parent.

Claiming Universal Credit

Since the cost of living crisis we’ve started receiving enquiries about claiming Universal Credit, with many families and charities confused as to whether a family where one parent has NRPF is legally able to make a claim.

Our Money & Allowances Specialist Claire Hallam spoke to her contacts at the Department for Work and Pensions who confirmed that a couple could make a ‘joint’ claim but that the partner with NRPF would be classed as an ‘ineligible adult’. Further information can be found on the new benefits section on the F&C webpages at

What is not classed as a public fund?

There are a list of benefits that are not restricted for immigration purposes, these include Maternity Allowance and Statutory Maternity Pay.

What help is available?

In compassionate cases requiring unexpected outlays, such as the death of a family member back in the home country, it’s a good idea to speak to your unit welfare team. They will help you to approach regimental charities or SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, for financial help.

When the cost of visas is preventing families from being reunited or from applying for ILR in the UK, AFF recommends approaching The Royal British Legion. The F&C team works closely with caseworkers to confirm visa costs and to satisfy them that the immigration rules are met.

Case studies

Mr Musunamasi (pictured with his family in main photo) enlisted in 2017. At the time, he had a wife and three children back home in Fiji* and would not have been earning enough from his salary alone to bring them over to the UK for at least nine years. In 2019, his wife took the difficult decision to leave the children in the care of their grandmother in Fiji* so she could get a job in the UK to help meet the financial requirement. The children recently joined their parents at a cost of nearly £5,000 for visas alone. Unfortunately, because children’s applications are only issued up to the visa expiry of the parent on limited leave, the family now has only two years to try to save around £10,000 for their ILR applications.

Mr Musunamasi said: “It is heart-breaking that our family will have paid more than £20,000 for the right to enter and remain in the UK permanently.

“There should be more consideration given to service families. But we are truly grateful to The Royal British Legion for giving a huge helping hand with my children’s visas and airfares.”

*Mr Musunamasi was incorrectly identified as being from Ghana in the printed edition of Army&You. We apologise for this error.

Wilberforce Otieno, pictured right, was not earning enough to bring his wife and four children to the UK when he first enlisted four years ago. He had to split his family up and leave two children back home in Kenya. Now reunited as a family, Wilberforce is concerned about their applications for ILR which will cost more than £12,000. He has asked his commanding officer for permission to get a second job so he can start saving towards this. “I’m trying my best because I don’t want the visas refused, I have spent a lot of money on visas and flights already which has left me with debts I am still paying off.”    

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