March 09, 2021
Fiji international and England rugby star Joe Cokanasiga has called on the England Government to halt its “betrayal” of Commonwealth members of the armed forces.
This follows Cokanasiga’s father battling for a visa to be allowed residency in the UK who faces fees and visa red tape despite 14 years in British armed forces.
Ilaitia Cokanasiga served in the Royal Logistic Corps for 14 years, completing operational tours to Iraq and Afghanistan but he still faces applying for a visa to remain in the UK and must now pay fees of £2,389 to complete the application.
The player made an appeal on Commonwealth Day for the fees to be removed and the process simplified for the many families struggling through the application process.
He is supporting a three-year campaign by the Royal British Legion and says it’s totally unfair the Government is making people who have served and sacrificed in the armed forces pay for the right to stay in the UK.
He told the PA news agency that “the main word that comes to mind is a feeling of betrayal. He represented this country for 15 years, made a lot of sacrifices.”
“I was born into an Army family, all we knew was serving the British Army and when he finished we felt ashamed as if we had done something wrong, particularly for my dad there was no sense of belonging.”
Cokanasiga, who plays wing for Bath and his brother Philip 19, has played for London Irish and England under-18s, said they hoped the Government would change its treatment of Commonwealth service personnel.
Coganasiga said his father came to Fiji last year and was unable to return to his home in Didcot, Oxfordshire last month and is still awaiting the outcome of his visa application.
“The situation with dad’s visa issues has caused our family a great deal of distress. In a year when we’ve all been affected by the pandemic, the uncertainty around his residency has been really traumatic.”
He described how as a child his family was posted overseas to Germany and Brunei and it was through his service education that he was introduced to rugby, eventually playing alongside his father in armed forces community tournaments.
“I’ve seen first-hand how much military personnel from the Commonwealth have done for this country. I feel so strongly about supporting the Royal British Legion’s Stop the Service Charge campaign.”
The Royal British Legion head of policy and research Andy Pike said Joe’s case highlights how it’s not just veterans from the Commonwealth but also their families who are suffering because of these unfair immigration rules.
“These individuals and families have given years of loyal service to the United Kingdom, yet many are facing a desperate situation if they wish to remain here when they leave the military.
A Government spokeswoman said “We are hugely grateful to the contribution of all our armed forces.”
“The Home Office and Ministry of Defence work closely with our non-UK recruits to make sure they are fully aware of how they and their families can settle in the UK, and the costs involved.”
“The Ministry of Defence will shortly launch a public consultation to consider how we can offer greater flexibility for serving personnel in the future.”
By Romeka Romena