"On September 2nd, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence to see whether Gurkas could become eligible for British Citizenship, in view of their loyal service to this country. The reply is below; and I was pleased to read of the joint review with the Home Office."
Ivor Caplin MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence
And Minister for Veterans
22 September 2004
Dear Sir George
Thank you for your letter of 2 September to Geoff Hoon about Gurkhas obtaining British Citizenship. I am replying as this matter falls within my area of responsibility.
Ultimately, the immigration and nationality rules are a matter for the Home Office. A review announced by Dr Moonie MP, in March 2003 of the policy on immigration, settlement and naturalisation of the Gurkhas, is currently being conducted by officials from the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence. However, the situation at present is as follows.
Gurkhas, like other non-UK citizens in the Armed Forces, are not automatically granted UK citizenship whilst serving, as they are exempt from immigration controls. Because of this it is difficult for serving Gurkhas to be naturalised as British citizens as the British Nationality Act 1981 specifically excludes time spent in the UK, while exempt from immigration control, as residence for naturalisation purposes.
An Armed Forces Concession exists which allows such non-UK citizens to count four years of their service as approved employment to support an application for Leave to Remain in UK after their discharge, which can then lead to naturalisation if they so wish. This concession does not currently apply to Gurkhas, because under our agreement with the Nepalese government, which has held for some 50 years, all Gurkhas are discharged in Nepal as Nepalese citizens. Ex-Gurkhas however can and do return to UK, and they can then establish residence in UK and apply for naturalisation under the normal rules.
Due to the broad range and complexity of the issues being looked at, the review has taken some time to complete. We have to ensure we find a sustainable way forward and consider the broader implications which any change in policy may have, such as the possible impact on the Nepalese economy. While the work has been ongoing, all decisions on applications for naturalisation made by Gurkhas have been put on hold until after the review is complete, to ensure that Gurkhas can benefit from any change in policy. An announcement on the outcome of the review is due to be made by Government in the next few weeks.
You will be aware of the high level of public and media interest in this subject at present. There is considerable public support for any change that would allow Gurkhas to settle and naturalise in the UK. This has already had an effect on deportation issues, as on Friday, 10th September 2004 the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, Des Browne suspended with immediate effect, all removals of ex-Gurkhas from the UK. He has also agreed that no further decisions on applications for leave to remain in the UK from ex-Gurkhas and their dependants should be taken, pending the outcome of the review.
Our Gurkha soldiers continue to serve this country with loyalty and dedication and we take our responsibilities towards them very seriously.
I hope this explains the situation.