A former British army sergeant with 14 years of service, two tours of Iraq, one of Afghanistan and with two sons who play rugby for England is being prevented from returning to the UK due to immigration rules.
According to Guardian reports, which have sparked widespread outrage, Ilaitia Cokanasiga has been curtailed from returning to the UK to rejoin his wife as she undergoes cancer treatment.
Immigration difficulties also stopped him from travelling to see his 22-year-old son, Joe Cokanasiga, play for England in the World Cup in Japan last year.
“I feel betrayed”
“I feel betrayed after what I did for the army and the country,” he told the Guardian.
“I talk to my wife every other day, and she cries on the phone. She is very worried. I’m not there and she’s supposed to be having surgery. Everyone in the family is struggling to cope with the pressures of my wife’s poor health. I need to return to the UK to care for my wife.”
Ilaitia’s account echoes the situation faced by hundreds of Commonwealth-born army veterans who face serious immigration problems, despite long periods of service in the military.
The Cokanasiga family had initially wanted to avoid publicity but were prompted to speak out after discovering how many other former soldiers face the same problem.
Post-discharge immigration system
Commonwealth veterans who have served more than four years are eligible for indefinite leave to remain, but the post-discharge immigration system is complex.
Many assume that the process is automatic, since they have a stamp in their passport stating they are immigration exempt, and are unaware that the status ends when they leave the army.
The process has left Ilaitia stranded in Fiji, where he has met many other veterans who have been discharged from the army without receiving immigration guidance.
He said: “It was every boy’s dream to join the British army. I felt extremely proud.
“Now I feel angry.”