Friday, 22 May 2009

Victory for Gurkha Veterans

by Kathryn Hadley

Yesterday, Thursday May 21st, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, announced in parliament that all Gurkha veterans who had served in the British Army for at least four years would be eligible for settlement in the UK.
‘Generations of Gurkhas have served the United Kingdom with great courage, sacrifice and distinction and they continue to make a vital and valued contribution to our operations around the world. Following the clear view expressed by the House of Commons - we have now amended our guidance to ensure that all Gurkhas who served for four years or more can have settlement rights. We will now welcome all those former Gurkhas who wish to live in the UK and we will begin to work through the outstanding cases that have not yet been granted settlement.’
The final victory came after an extremely lengthy campaign, which has been hugely publicised over the past months. The campaign showed initial signs of success in 2004, when the government granted the first Gurkhas the right to settle in the UK if they had served on, or after, July 1st, 1997. On July 1st, the Brigade of Gurkhas base was moved from Hong Kong to the UK. UK residence remained prohibited, however, to Gurkhas who had retired before July 1st, 1997. Whereas the majority of foreign soldiers in the British Army are granted the right to settle in the UK following four years service anywhere in the world, Gurkhas who retired before 1997 were forced to apply for individual visas.

A second victory came at the end of last September, when the London High Court ruled in favour of five Gurkha veterans and a Gurkha widow who had condemned the immigration law. However, it was estimated at the time that 2,000 Gurkhas were still refused UK residence and the judge, Mr Blake, set the Home Office a three-month deadline to review the specific immigration restrictions applicable to Gurkhas. The ensuing battle lasted a further six months. At the end of last year, the government demanded a three-month extension to draft proposals for new legislation and to review the remaining appeals and the deadline was pushed back.

All Gurkhas who have served in the British Army for at least four years will now be allowed to settle in the UK with their spouses and dependent children under the age of 18. The Home Office is expected to receive between 10,000 and 15,000 applications over the next two years. Jacqui Smith also announced yesterday that approximately 1,400 outstanding applications for settlement would be dealt with before June 11th.

An article reporting on the decision was published yesterday on the website of the Ministry of Defence.

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