Fijian British Army Veteran: I Was Never Told To Apply For Permanent Residency

Veterans are hoping that Fijians entering the British Army become fully aware of the immigration requirements.
12 Mar 2020 11:06
Fijian British Army Veteran: I Was Never Told To Apply For Permanent Residency
British Army veteren Ilaitia Cokanasiga with his son’s jersey. Photo: Jennis Naidu

His son Joe Cokanasiga was referred to as the ‘English winger’ when he played in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Yet, after serving 14 years for the British Army, Ilaitia Cokanasiga cannot go back to England. For him, his entire family is in England, including his wife, who is due for surgery for a brain tumour.

Mr Cokanasiga’s sons, Joe and Filipe, both play rugby. Joe has represented England at the highest level while Filipe is following in his younger brother’s footsteps.

Mr Cokanasiga’s case is similar to many Fijian British Army veterans, who after serving the Her Majesty the Queen and her country, are now finding themselves in an immigration dilemma.

The reasons put forward by Mr Cokanasiga is that he was never informed that after serving Britian, he would need to apply for an Indefinite Leave to Remain application, in other words, a permanent residency.

He said he was never informed of this.

This is also the claim of many other Fijian British Army veterans in Britian, eight of whom have taken the Ministry of Defence in the United Kingdom to court.

Mr Cokanasiga has initiated legal action so he can be with his family.

“Prior to my date of discharge from the army I was instructed to attend a range of resettlement courses,” he said.

“As part of this resettlement process, I was assisted with regard to applications for housing and encouraged to attend courses that would enable me to seek employment upon entering civilian life. I was also advised about my pension, which I will be eligible to receive from the age of 60,” Mr Cokanasiga said in a statement to his lawyers.

“It was common knowledge that Commonwealth soldiers would be able to remain in the UK after serving a minimum of four years in the British army.

“I assumed that my length of service in the army meant that I was able to leave the army and settle into civilian life. The resettlement courses and briefings I was required to attend before leaving the army reinforced this understanding, as the army was clearly preparing me for civilian life.”

Mr Cokanasiga claimed that he was never informed that to remain in the UK he would need to make an Indefinite Leave to Remain application.

His wife and children retain their Fijian nationality and passports but have Indefinite Leave to Enter status, granted to them when they came to the UK to join Mr Cokanasiga when he was in the army.

“It is somewhat ironic that the rest of my family has Indefinite Leave to Enter status, whilst I who served much over a decade in the British Army transpired not to have valid status to remain in the UK after all these years since my discharge from the army,” he said.

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Army visa invalid

“In the summer of 2019, Joe went on a training camp to Italy with the England rugby team leading up to the World Cup. On his return, the squad flew into Newcastle airport. Along with a few other non-British players, he had to go through immigration clearance.

“When it came to his turn, the Immigration Officer asked him whether he was granted his visa when his father was in the army. Joe said yes.

“The officer then said something along the lines of – your father is no longer in the army, so his army visa is no longer valid.

“Joe initially thought the validity of his own visa was being questioned, but quickly realised this was not the case because his passport was stamped and he was let through.”

Upside down

Mr Cokanasiga believes the lives of his family members has been turned upside down.

He said it was a real blow to him when he was told he could not remain in the UK.

Last December, Mr Cokanasiga and his wife came with their daughter to Fiji, who was married here.

His wife has since returned following her medical ailments, but he remains here.

“Tragically, I now reflect on my army career with underlying bitterness and my pride at my sons’ rugby careers are tainted by the fact that the British government let our family down when they failed to advise me of steps that I needed to take to remain in the UK with valid status,” he said.

The British High Commission in its response said they would not comment on any matter that is before the courts.

Every second Wednesday of the month, Fijian British Army veterans gather at Domain in Suva and reflect on their time spent in the forces.

Mr Cokanasiga is not alone to have claimed that they were never informed of the need to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain after their services ended.

With these cases coming to light, these veterans are hoping that Fijians entering the British Army become fully aware of the immigration requirements, which would entitle them to stay on – where they served Queen and country.


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