Priti Patel’s new immigration rules could hit efforts to swell our Army’s depleted ranks by excluding Commonwealth recruits.
Troop numbers are at their lowest level since the Crimean War at just 73,000 – and 6,000 foreign and Commonwealth soldiers have boosted a push to a target of 82,000.
But the Home Secretary’s £25,600-a-year minimum salary threshold for skilled workers means Commonwealth recruits earning less than £16,000 appear to be banned.
Ministry of Defence sources insisted the rules would not affect such recruits, who can enter on a visitor visa – despite working.
Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said: “Commonwealth troops have played an extremely valuable role in the armed forces.
“The British Army is desperately short of recruits and anything the Government does to make the job of recruitment more difficult is absurd. On the one hand the Government wants to take on such recruits but it is also doing the opposite with rules that make it more difficult – and that is counter-productive.
“There must be a clear, above-board system that does not look like a fudge, which entry on a visitor’s visa would. It is very important potential recruits know they are welcome to come to Britain and try to join the Army.
“These changes fail to make this clear to somebody looking at coming to enlist – and this is a mistake.”
The Government said: “There are no plans to change the immigration rules for armed forces personnel and their non-EU dependants.
“Visa information for Commonwealth citizens and Gurkha recruits is readily available on each of the armed services websites.”
Meanwhile, the Home Secretary was branded “clueless” after claiming 8 million “economically inactive” people in the UK are waiting to take low-paid jobs. Ms Patel, cracking down on low-skilled immigration, suggested 20% of working age people are inactive and could fill vacancies under a points-based system.
But the Office for National Statistics estimates the figure includes 2.3 million students, 2.1 million long-term sick, 1.9 million looking after family or home, 1.1 million who are retired and 160,000 temporarily sick.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “She’s clearly clueless, isn’t she? Not only are these proposals hugely damaging for our economy, they’re potentially devastating for our health and care sector.”