The Home Office has announced new citizenship rights for members of the Commonwealth serving in the British Armed Forces.
Servicemen from outside the UK will now be eligible to apply for UK citizenship despite being stationed abroad for most of their service.
Under the new rules, they will no longer be required to live in the UK for five years (or three years if married to or the civil partner of a British citizen) before applying for citizenship.
The changes will enable them to use time spent in service anywhere in the world towards fulfilling the residency requirement.
Home secretary John Reid said: "This change reflects the commitment to the safety and security of the United Kingdom these men and women show every day despite not being stationed on British soil.”
The new rules come only a few months after the South African National Assembly passed the controversial Prohibition of Mercenary Activity and Regulation of Certain Activities in Areas of Armed Conflict Bill, outlawing mercenary activities and giving the government the right to declare certain conflicts prohibited to South African citizens.
The bill was designed to stop South Africa being a haven for mercenaries, but many feel the law is too blunt and will mean that thousands of soldiers working legitimately will have to choose between surrendering their citizenship or returning home to slim employment prospects.
John Palmer*, a captain serving in the British Army, said he and many other South Africans are simply waiting to see how the bill will affect them. “Nothing much has happened since the bill was passed last August. The Ministry of Defense are still in discussion with the South African government and no decision has been made yet. He added: “It will flare up again I’m sure.”
The new citizenship rules may affect their choices when the time comes.
Sielo Nkosi*, a South African stationed in Germany, said: “For those of us intending to return home, the new rules will not change our plans, but for some of the younger guys going back to South Africa is the last thing they want to do.”
Nkosi said that his South African citizenship is “non-negotiable” and also fears that the bill will strain relations between the UK and South Africa.
The bill has drawn criticism from the international community, and was passed despite a plea from Paul Boateng, British High Commissioner to South Africa.