Is the British army right to let Commonwealth citizens sign up without living in the UK?
By Joe Harker
In an effort to recruit more soldiers the British armed forces will now allow people from Commonwealth countries to join without having lived in the UK for at least five years. Previous limits on Commonwealth recruitment capped the amount of soldiers who could join up without living in the UK at 200 per year, but the armed forces desperately need more recruits as they face a shortage of 8,200 personnel. It is hoped that the changes will mean an extra 1,350 people are recruited each year.
The restriction that required Commonwealth citizens to live in the UK for five years before joining the armed forces was waived in 1998 before being reintroduced in 2013. Many of the headlines on the subject refer to "foreigners" but foreign nationals outside the Commonwealth of Nations are not allowed to join save for people from Ireland and the Gurkhas from Nepal who have special rules.
This is part of an attempt to solve a larger problem with the armed forces, as they are already short staffed and more people are leaving than signing up. The Daily Telegraph reports that the armed forces have no shortage of recruits, but the slow application process is seeing thousands drop out and look for work elsewhere.
They cite reports that claim over 101,854 people tried to sign up in the last year but only 7,441 completed the recruitment process. In that same time 9,718 people left. Former army chief General Lord Richard Dannatt was critical of the repeated failure to meet recruitment targets. He said: "I've heard of a number of people who have been trying to join the Armed Forces and got fed up at the length of time it takes.
"The system is too complicated, the Army knows the previous system was better and would like to go back to it. The reason why it's not being done is because it's too expensive."
Private company Capita has been in charge of army recruitment since 2012 and many are urging the government to sack them from their role as the Ministry of Defence admitted that the company repeatedly missed recruitment targets.
Extensive background and medical checks are required to join the armed forces, while a third of annual applicants are turned away because they are either too old or unfit, or because they do not meet the required educational standards. Widening recruitment from Commonwealth countries should help, but doesn't guarantee that it would just result in more people becoming frustrated at the amount of time it takes to actually join.
Recent adverts for the armed forces attracted plenty of potential recruits but have been criticised for targeting the youngest and poorest in society. The recent "This Is Belonging" campaign was found to have targeted stressed teenagers around exam time, focusing on attracting risk takers who are easily influenced and come from poor backgrounds with limited opportunities.