Main photo: Hemraj Gharti Magar and family

The opportunity to live overseas should be an exciting one but for some Foreign & Commonwealth families it can be a complex proposition. Here, our F&C specialist Katherine Houlston outlines the main processes to be aware of…

Do I need a visa to accompany my soldier on an overseas posting?

This depends on where you’re posted to. You should be given information by the receiving unit well in advance as, in some cases, you may need to apply to the embassy or high commission in the UK. If you have difficulties obtaining the information, contact AFF or the Regional Command non-UK caseworker at RC-Pers-FamSp-0Mailbox@mod.gov.uk

Does my time spent out of the UK count as residence?

Yes, if you have a visa under armed forces immigration rules. This is why it’s very important that you check you have the correct visa before you leave the UK. If your visa was issued under a different rule, for example, an ancestry visa, contact us as soon as possible – fcsupport@aff.org.uk

What happens if my visa is due to expire whilst I’m overseas?

You need to apply for a new one. Medical emergencies and recent evacuations due to the COVID-19 pandemic have all highlighted the importance for everyone to be able to return to the UK at short notice. If your visa expires overseas, it may affect your entitlement to status stamps, which in turn may affect your legal status in the home nation.

How do I apply for a visa whilst overseas?

The UKVI online form doesn’t differentiate between someone applying to join a soldier for the first time and someone applying to extend on an overseas assignment. It’s therefore not an easy form to complete as it presumes you’re travelling to the UK. You’ll need to refer to the AFF website for details on how to complete it.

What will I apply for?

Presuming you have a visa which was issued for five years, you should be eligible for indefinite leave. The problem is that one of the requirements for applying for indefinite leave is a Life in the UK test certificate, which is only available to take in the UK and Cyprus, so if you’re living elsewhere, you’d have to return to the UK to take the test or apply for an extension to your current limited leave.

Who will pay?

The good news is that visas can be claimed at public expense whilst on an overseas assignment. Speak to your unit admin for details. However, it’s not currently clear whether indefinite leave (£2,389) would be paid for at public expense or just limited leave (£1,523). This can lead to units interpreting the rules in different ways.

Can I apply early if my visa is due to expire around the same time of a posting to the UK?

Not if you’re applying for indefinite leave; the earliest you can apply is 28 days before the visa expires as there’s a requirement for you to have spent 60 months on that visa before you’re eligible. However, if you’re applying for a further period of limited leave then you can apply at any point for an extension.

“Recent evacuations have highlighted the importance for everyone to be able to return to the UK at short notice.”

“The good news is that visas can be claimed at public expense whilst on an overseas assignment.”

What’s the latest on Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) issues?

Once your visa application has been processed, you’ll be sent a ‘vignette’ in your visa which will be valid for 30 days. You’re expected to travel to the UK within that 30-day period to pick up your BRP from a UK post office. The Home Office won’t send a BRP to a BFPO address and it isn’t possible for someone in the UK to pick it up for you.

AFF has raised this issue and we’re awaiting official guidance as to what action a spouse in this position is expected to take.

Should you travel to the UK or let it expire, then apply for a new 30-day vignette nearer to your posting date? Who will pay for these additional expenses?

We will continue to seek clarification on this issue but for now, you’ll need to ask your soldier to raise it with their unit.

Crown Service Citizenship applications

One of the main benefits of being on an overseas assignment is the ability to apply for citizenship without having to follow the normal route – there’s no requirement to have ILR or in fact any visa to be eligible. However, other requirements need to be met so do read the information on the AFF website. You’ll need to have at least six months left overseas and it’s also still imperative that you don’t let your visa expire.

What is AFF doing to help families overseas?

We have been working closely with the Naval and RAF families federations to raise these issues with the MOD, and also directly with the Home Office. We’ll continue to try to seek guidance and information.
Head to aff.org.uk for details.

Case study

Hemraj Gharti Magar, currently in Brunei, contacted us in January last year as his wife’s visa was due to expire a month before they were posted back to UK in September. She hadn’t taken the Life in the UK test, so would only be able to apply for another five-year limited leave visa. Due to COVID-19, the posting date has now been moved to March this year but Hemraj has been informed that his wife cannot apply for a visa until he has an assignment order – a requirement which hasn’t been in place for more than a decade. The case has now been raised to Regional Command.

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