Foreign nationals will be allowed to join the British army despite never having lived in the country, ministers will reveal as part of plans to help stem a worsening recruitment crisis in the armed forces.
The Ministry of Defence is expected to announce on Monday that it will no longer require those joining the armed services from Commonwealth countries such as Australia, India, Canada, Kenya and Fiji to have lived in Britain for five years.
Under the policy, recruits will be considered for all forces including the Royal Navy and the RAF, with applications opening in early 2019. It is hoped the changes will lead to an extra 1,350 people joining every year. The army will begin the admissions process from early next year, while the navy and RAF will start immediately. Applications from citizens of countries outside the Commonwealth will not be accepted.
“Foreign and Commonwealth troops have historically been important and valued sources of recruitment for the British arm and I welcome the recruitment limit increase,” Mark Francois, a member of the defence select committee, told the Daily Telegraph, which first published details of the plan.
The UK armed forces are short of 8,200 soldiers, sailors and air personnel, a report found earlier this year, the worse shortage since 2010.
The government allows 200 Commonwealth citizens who have not lived in Britain for five years to apply, a rule introduced in 2016. But now the cap will be lifted. Special rules already allow citizens of Ireland and Gurkhas from Nepal to join the armed forces because of special rules.
MPs said the move highlighted a crisis in recruitment, taking aim at Capita, the business service provider that runs the army’s recruitment campaign. Francois, who spent a year meeting MoD officials and military personnel, said: “The army is disappearing before our eyes and will continue to do so until Capita are sacked.”
A Capita spokesman said it was confident changes it was introducing would deliver “[better] outcomes for candidates and the army”.
Concern was also raised in April’s National Audit Office report that there were “much larger shortfalls” in the number of engineers, pilots and intelligence analysts. It said the air force iswas undertaking more missions than it had for a quarter of a century.
And a Conservative MP’s report in July 2017 warned that the armed forces were “hollowing out” due to recruitment issues.
Francois described factors leading to a recruitment crisis as the “perfect storm”, citing high employment rates and an ageing population as reasons behind a fall in numbers. He also said an increase in obesity and a rising proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic people – who he said had until now been less likely to apply for military service – were also behind the fall.
Francois recommended that attempts be made to attract more black, Asian and minority ethnic recruits, as well as getting more women to join.
Last month, it was announced that women would be allowed to apply for all roles in the British military for the first time, including in frontline infantry units and the Royal Marines. New rules mean women will also be able to put themselves forward for selection for specialist units including the SAS and SBS.
The defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, made the announcement during a land power demonstration on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire.