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UK opens up armed forces recruitment to Indians and nationals from the Commonwealth

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LONDON (PTI): The UK government has announced a relaxation of recruitment criteria to allow Commonwealth nationals to apply for jobs in its armed forces to meet a shortage in its ranks, a move that could also benefit Indians.

The decision announced on Thursday by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) means that people from Commonwealth countries - including India, Australia, Kenya, Fiji and Sri Lanka - will be considered for roles, even if they have never lived in Britain.

The Commonwealth is an association of 53 independent states that are mostly former territories of the British Empire.

The MoD laid out the proposals in a written ministerial statement (WMS) before Parliament, which involves a waiver of the current requirement of a minimum of five-year residency in the UK for applying to join the country's Army, Navy or Air Force.

This would open up the forces to recruits who have been based in countries like India, Australia, Canada and Kenya and meet the necessary recruitment criteria for the service and role they wish to join.

"We have now decided to remove the five-year UK residency criterion for Commonwealth citizens and increase recruitment to 1,350 across the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force (RAF), the MoD statement reads.

"Applications will be accepted from all Commonwealth countries, although in order to mitigate the risks associated with unaccompanied minors travelling to the UK without the guarantee of a job, we will not be accepting applications from those under 18," the statement adds.

A limited waiver to the residency requirement was introduced in May 2016 to recruit up to 200 Commonwealth personnel per year to fill skill shortage posts.

This limited waiver has now been widened, with the RAF and Navy beginning recruitment of Commonwealth applicants right away and the Army to accept such applications from early 2019. Applications from citizens of countries outside the Commonwealth will not be accepted.

"Citizens from the Commonwealth have a long tradition of serving with distinction in the Armed Forces, the MoD said.

Special rules already allow citizens of Ireland and Gurkhas from Nepal to join the British armed forces. The five-year UK residency requirement for Commonwealth recruits was first waived in 1998, before being reintroduced in 2013.

A National Audit Office (NAO) report had revealed in April this year that the UK's armed forces is short of around 8,200 soldiers, sailors and air personnel. Among measures to meet this shortage, women are now allowed to apply for all roles in the British military for the first time in history.

Britain currently employs 4,500 Commonwealth citizens in the armed forces, with 3,940 in the Army, 480 in the Royal Navy and 80 serving in the RAF.

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