Are soldiers who have non-UK national families in their home countries eligible to apply for Service Family Accommodation (SFA) if they want their loved ones to join them in the UK? In theory, yes.
In practice, because of the Minimum Income Requirement (MIR) – the level of income required before you can bring your family to the UK – many new recruits are not earning enough to bring their loved ones over, so are not entitled to SFA.
AFF is concerned that the policy and processes are not always made clear. Katherine Houlston, AFF’s Foreign & Commonwealth Specialist, explains more…
HOW SHOULD YOU APPLY FOR SFA?
The soldier should apply via the e1132 application form, which has a tick box to declare if family members need a visa. Once this is ticked, Amey Occupancy Services let the previous and new unit know they have received such an application.
WHEN CAN YOU MOVE IN?
The SFA can be allocated but you cannot move in until the unit has seen proof of the right visa for the family member.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN PRACTICE?
AFF has received reports that some units aren’t aware that they should be checking visas. It’s also unclear what processes are in place to determine whether a visa check has been done. So, some soldiers and families are moving into SFA without the right visas.
DO WE ONLY NEED TO ENSURE WE HAVE THE RIGHT VISA?
No, the soldier also needs to meet the MIR. Whilst new recruits with family members are encouraged to apply for SFA during their initial trade training, they usually don’t earn enough to bring their families over so aren’t actually entitled to SFA. This lack of understanding leads to some soldiers occupying SFA out of entitlement.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF MOVING INTO SFA WITHOUT THE RIGHT VISA?
Once a soldier has moved in, it’s easier to invite family to the UK without getting the right visa for them. It’s understandable that soldiers may wish to try this if the alternative is being separated from their families for long periods, but it’s against immigration rules to enter as a visitor if you intend to remain in the UK.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF HAVING FAMILY IN THE UK WITH NO VALID VISA?
Spouses and children could be in a vulnerable position. Even if they make an application for a visa to remain, there is no guarantee it will be successful and it usually takes many months to process.
Whilst they are overstayers, spouses cannot work, open bank accounts, drive or undertake any education, and they could be removed from the UK at any time. Children are prevented from accessing higher education and in one ongoing case, a child has been refused a place at a primary school.
If a relationship breaks down, the spouse can’t apply to remain under immigration rules.
They then become irregular occupants of SFA and could be evicted.
Social services are not usually willing to help these spouses, even if they have British children, because they have no recourse to public funds.
WHAT IS AFF DOING?
AFF has written a paper on this and is working with Defence Infrastructure Organisation and the MOD to try to resolve it. We are requesting that a process is established which defines who has responsibility for ensuring that the right visas are in place before the SFA is occupied. We believe this will reduce the number of families being brought to the UK without the right visa.