UK

Rugby Star Joe Cokanasiga Criticises 'Betrayal' Of Commonwealth Soldiers

The England international's father served in the Royal Logistic Corps for 14 years, but still faces applying for a visa to remain in the UK.

England rugby union player Joe Cokanasiga is backing a campaign to scrap visa fees for Commonwealth members of the Armed Forces.

His father, Ilaitia Cokanasiga, served in the Royal Logistic Corps for 14 years but still faces applying for a visa to remain in the UK and must now pay fees of £2,389 to complete the application.

Joe Cokanasiga has 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.

The Bath and England winger is supporting a three-year campaign by the Royal British Legion called 'Stop The Service Charge'.

He said: "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."

For a lot of Joe's childhood, the family was stationed in Germany and Brunei.

It was through his service education that he was introduced to rugby, eventually playing alongside his father in the Armed Forces community tournaments.

“My father played a huge part in my journey to becoming a professional rugby player.

"If it wasn't for his Army career, I wouldn't be where I am today."

Coganasiga's father had to travel to Fiji last year, and found himself forced to stay for a year because of immigration issues.

Last month he was able to return to his home in Didcot, Oxfordshire, while he waits for the outcome of his visa application.

Joe's father Ilaitia (left) in Afghanistan with his brother, Mike Cokanasiga, who served in the Royal Navy (Picture: Ilaitia Cokanasiga).

"When he had to go back to Fiji, it split us all up at a really difficult time in our lives.

"Not having him here in the UK recently has had a major impact on my life."

In 2020 there were 5,110 Commonwealth citizens serving in the armed forces.

In each of the past five years, there have been up to 400 applications by service personnel for indefinite leave to remain – 0.6% of the total granted by the UK.

Andy Pike, RBL head of policy and research, 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.

"That's why, on Commonwealth Day, we're calling on the government to publish its proposals as soon as possible and take action to abolish these unfair visa application fees."

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.

"This includes working with the Joining Forces Credit Union to offer financial advice, savings packages and loans to help personnel pay for visa costs.

"The Ministry of Defence will shortly launch a public consultation to consider how we can offer greater flexibility for serving personnel in the future."

Cover image: Joe Cokanasiga playing for Bath (Picture: Patrick Khachfe Onside Images).