I am proud to have been part of the change in the law last Friday in the House of Commons: the Armed Forces Citizenship Bill will make it easier for Commonwealth-born members of the armed forces to claim British citizenship. Existing rules state overseas applicants for British citizenship must have lived in the UK for five years. But applicants only start working towards that five-year threshold from the first day they arrive in the UK. As Commonwealth-born soldiers, sailors and airmen are often immediately posted overseas after they sign up, they may have to wait for longer than other applicants before they can claim British citizenship.
The new Citizenship (Armed Forces) Bill, would allow immigration officials to waive the minimum five-year threshold for citizenship applications from Commonwealth-born servicemen and women, as well as veterans. The legislation would affect around 200 members or former members of the armed forces, many of whom are likely to come from countries such as Fiji, Jamaica, South Africa and Ghana, as well as Nepal.
In my view: this is certainly not going to impact on our immigration or nationalisation numbers to any great extent. But, there is an injustice in the current rules and regulations and that needs to be changed.
I do believe it is wrong for our armed services personnel and former armed services personnel, who fit in to this category, to be discriminated against in this way. It is anomalous and it is something that the Commons and the Lords can, and should, rectify. Every day that members of our armed forces have spent in the service of our country abroad should have the same value in the eyes of the immigration authorities as a day spent in the UK.
This Bill is backed very strongly by Veterans Aid, Help for Heroes, the Royal British Legion and all other Armed Forces Charities.
My speech on the issue and the short debate is found here 19.50 seconds in: http://www.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/house-of-commons-25776483