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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006, 16:29 GMT
New rules for troops' citizenship
Fijian Elima Nawari (L) and John Reid MP
Commonwealth soldiers will find it easier to be UK citizens
Rules over the amount of time it takes Commonwealth nationals serving with British armed forces to qualify for UK citizenship are to be relaxed.

Instead of having to spend up to five years in the UK, soldiers will be able to use time served abroad as part of their residency requirement.

The Home Office said the move reflected the "commitment" of service personnel from outside the UK.

The move could affect up to 7,125 soldiers from Commonwealth countries.

The change does not affect Gurkhas, who are governed by different regulations.

The Home Secretary, John Reid, said that despite not being based on British soil, soldiers from the Commonwealth were committed to the safety and security of the UK.

We should recognise that sacrifice, and pay tribute to it by acknowledging that service
John Reid, Home Secretary

"Everyday these members of our armed forces put their lives at risk for the British public.

"We should recognise that sacrifice, and pay tribute to it by acknowledging that service and ensuring that it is recognised in any application for citizenship," he said.

Andy Roberts-Shaw of the National Army Museum in London said the development was a sign of how far Britain has come in its relationship with soldiers from the Commonwealth.

He said that the armed forces have always had troops from nations of the former British Empire, and that had continued since Napoleonic times.

"If you go to Arborfield, to the REME HQ, or any logistics base, you will see black and Asian Commonwealth soldiers.

"They see themselves as British, and recruitment from the Commonwealth is very good.

"As Britain's population becomes more diverse, so does the army," he said.

Members of the Brigade of Gurkhas have traditionally been able to use their time spent serving abroad towards the UK's residency requirement.

The Gurkhas, however, have always remained Nepalese citizens during their military careers.

They can only apply for British citizenship once they have been discharged from the Army.

Who are the Gurkhas?
21 Feb 03 |  UK

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