Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson recently announced that rules regulating recruiting personnel from Commonwealth countries into the British armed services are to be relaxed.

Stuart Crawford was a regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for twenty years, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1999. Crawford now works as a political, media, and defence and security consultant in Edinburgh and is a regular commentator and contributor on military and defence topics in online and other media, including the UK Defence Journal.

Hitherto, with various exceptions, potential recruits from Commonwealth countries had to prove five years residence in the UK before being eligible to join. No longer.

Just to be clear, there is nothing new about Commonwealth subjects serving in Britain’s armed services (as opposed to being attached temporarily or on exchange programmes). During my own army service in a Scottish armoured regiment we had a couple of Canadians and two Kiwis in the Officers’ Mess, with British army commissions – or more properly the Queen’s Commission – and there have been longstanding derogations to allow citizens of the Republic of Ireland and Ghurkas from Nepal to serve.

But the new relaxing of the rules comes at an interesting time.  Back in April this year, a National Audit Office report found the number of full-time military personnel in the armed forces was 5.7%, or 8,200 people, short of the required level, and that it would take at least five years to close even part of the gap. The army in particular was reportedly over 5,000 personnel short of its target man/womanpower target of 82,000 last month.

The recent opening of the so-called combat arms to women is probably one reaction to the shortfall, but much of the blame for poor army recruitment figures has been laid at the door of “international business process outsourcing and professional services company” Capita, to which the contract for army recruitment was awarded in 2012. It would appear that interest to join the army remains strong but the company is failing to convert this interest into recruits in anything like the required numbers. Why Capita has not been sacked by the MoD over this remains a subject of some conjecture; possibly alleged penalty clauses in the contract of around £50 million (figure from fours year ago) might have something to do with it?

Be that as it may, there seems to be little doubt that the new impetus for attracting recruits from the Commonwealth results from the need to fill the man/womanpower shortfall. Which begs the question: what does the British army (the service I know best) have to offer these days to attract potential recruits from across the seas?

Pay might be one, although few people enter a military career purely on the basis of how much they might earn. Here the attractiveness of the offer varies with which Commonwealth country is being considered. If we look at what we might call “white” Commonwealth countries – if I can use that description without being immediately accused of being an alt-right, neo-con, racist white supremacist by the usual suspects – then British army remuneration, for example, may not be much of an incentive.

A quick perusal of New Zealand and Canadian army pay rates, to pick but two, shows that their remuneration compares very favourably with the British army. A NZ private earns roughly £23,500 per annum, a Canadian approximately £21,600, and a British private £19,025.  A NZ 2nd Lieutenant receives approximately £30,000 per annum, a Canadian of the same rank £29,520, and the British equivalent £26,737. Finally, a NZ major might earn an annual salary of £48,750, a Canadian £64,200, and their British counterpart £51,879.

So pay alone is unlikely to persuade recruits from these countries to join the British army. Of course, there are lots of other reasons they might wish to do so – travel overseas, different or more sophisticated equipment, family connections, more opportunities in a larger organisation etc – which are all perfectly understandable and valid.

However, when you look at the lesser developed Commonwealth countries there is a different picture. Using just the one example of the Indian army, where a private soldier earns approximately £4,380 per annum and a Lieutenant £8,580, it’s easy to see that pay might well be an important part of the offer. Others will be better qualified to comment on whether the same applies to the other services, and I hope they might do so.

So what are we saying here? Basically, it looks like the British armed services will have to think hard about what might attract Commonwealth recruits now that the residence rules have been removed. Other questions remain; will service bring automatic British citizenship, a UK passport, and the right of residency in the UK, for example? It seems only fair to me that it should, but others might disagree. And what about families, and housing, and other benefits?  Again, I think these would probably follow automatically, but I’m not sure.

One thing’s for sure. The new aspiration to recruit from overseas is, like the opening up of all arms and services to women, everything to do with drastically poor recruitment figures and nothing to do with gender balance or diversity. For this the government and MoD have only themselves to blame, for their criminal reluctance to fund defence properly and crass decisions like the outsourcing of military recruitment to civilian organisations which are clearly not equipped to do the job.

But, as we are always reminded, there are no votes in defence…

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Stuart Crawford
Stuart Crawford was a regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for twenty years, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1999. Crawford attended both the British and US staff colleges and undertook a Defence Fellowship at Glasgow University. He now works as a political, defence and security consultant and is a regular commentator on military and defence topics in print, broadcast and online media.
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I think it’s daft to outsource military recruitment to a private company.

Here’s a better idea: use ex military personnel. They know the realities of service life and could answer questions asked by young potential recruits much better than some company could.


This is a very good idea. Would free up personnel from AFCO’s.

The riddler

They’re looking at it. The brass are well aware of the capita mess.

andy reeves

the more the merrier


Also regarding Commonwealth recruits I absolutely think they should get UK citizenship after serving. 5 years minimum service and they get UK passport.

Anyone serves with British armed forces should be entitled to it in my opinion. Same with foreign nationals who actively assist UK forces like Iraqi and Afghan interpreters.

Families would be okay too but I’d limit it to spouse and children.

Bloke down the pub

A while back, the proposal to raise a Sikh battalion to encourage these well renowned warriors to join the Army was made. I’ve not heard any more of it since, so I presume the idea has died on the vine.
By the way, you miss-spelled Crapita.

Steve Taylor

How many Scots officers were in your mess? 🙂

This isn’t about recruiting from the White Commonwealth because we can’t compete there and would any of them want to come here? Take the RAN you hear lots of British accents……..

No this is about bringing cheaper labour from the Non-European Commonwealth as it were. How much does an engineer in the Indian navy get to a RN clanky, that’s the better comparison.


Nithjbv go do with cheaper labour; they’d be paid the same as UK nationals. It’s about troop numbers pure and simple.

I’m fine with that; anyone who wants to come and serve our country is welcome to do so in my books!

Steve Taylor

The ‘cheaper labour’ referring to the market they are trawling not how much they will be paid.

Stuart Crawford

About a dozen Scots officers. Don’t let accents fool you …….

Steve Taylor

Tell me, do Fijians make good cavalry troopers? 🙂

Sorry. I’ll stop it now.


They make great rugby players though…..

Stuart Crawford

I have no idea. You’d have to ask the cav ……


Cavalry Troopers? why wouldn’t they as the Cavalry happens to use armoured vehicles, and have been doing so for a few years now!!!! Are you saying that Fijians could not be part of a tank crew or a recce vehicle? or are you thinking they use horse 24/7 and not just when detailed for ceremonial duties. I presume a Fijian Trooper can be taught to ride a horse just like the British Council estate lads, who have never rode a horse either when joining.

David E Flandry

The Fijians serving in UN peacekeeping g roles have a good reputation for competence , and most of them are huge men. Some served with other forces in combat situations also with good reputations. But Fiji doesn’t have that big an army. No real need.


I think it is another excuse to add even more non Europeans to our European country, even though we are already around 20% non White British. Who looks at 20% of our country being non White British and says “that is just simply not enough, we absolutely have to add more!”? We already have more than enough, our European country is not everyones, everyone needs to get that dangerous idea out of their heads whilst there is still time. Do you think China, Korea, India, Pakistan, Japan, etc., etc., etc. are 20% a foreign race and still adding more? We… Read more »


That’s absolute rubbish. Is a black man or Asian woman, born and raised here and serving in the armed forces, any less British than a white person? Even ignoring your call to purge non whites from the country, just exactly how many people do you think this will attract? A few thousand people at most. All of whom able to speak English, and wanting to serve this country. These aren’t illegal immigrants or asylum seekers supposedly taking jobs from British people or spongjng off benefits; these are commonwealth members of states allied to the UK, who would be coming here… Read more »


Also there are countries that have foreign nationals in their armed forces: the US has foreign nationals in theirs. Serve for 4 years and you get citizenship.

Israel also allows Ethiopian Jews into their military.

Russia, as a massive country spanning Europe and Asia, also has non-whites in their military.


Also the non white population of the UK is 12.9%, not 20%. Perhaps you should check facts before you speak.


You need to check your eyesight before you speak, I said non White British. They made up nearly 20% of our country back in 2011, they have been letting more in non stop since then, add in illegals, and our country is already over 20% non White British, and STILL letting more in. A few and no one would have been bothered, bit it has went WAY beyond that by now. Like I say, do you think Pakistan is over 20% originally from a foreign country, and the Pakistani men are saying “keep letting more in”? Or the Chinese men… Read more »


now, now ladies calm down, this isn’t a site where people slag each other off, just because somebody doesn’t agree with another’s thoughts doesn’t call for keyboard politics


I have to say your post has got todays top piffle prize. Its about attempting to fill the slots which our fav recruiting organisation “Capita”, has fucked up on. I have served with numerous commonwealth fellahs and mostly decent guys with the right attitude to serve in the military. Whether they wait 5 years or join straight away, what’s the difference? They will still have to go through the same recruitment process and any unsuitable will hopefully be weeded out, as would be the case with direct British recruits. The army suddenly isn’t going to be filled with Syrian refugees,… Read more »

David steeper

We don’t have much choice. The days of high unemployment are at least for now history. Then family members and near peers who have served in the forces especially post national service are falling all the time. For more and more young people service in the forces are rarely even considered. Of the two I think the latter is the bigger, and far harder problem to solve.


Milennials are far too self interested for a military career. They don’t want any hardship. They grow up thinking everything is free and on a plate for them.

God, as I say that I realise I sound much older than my 33 years lol!

With uni so expensive and no guarantee of a good job at the end, I think the armed forces should be promoted as the place to learn skills, gain trades and see the world, while all being paid. Provides good alternatives to expensive uni degrees.

David Steeper

Steve I know what you mean but i’m 51 and people were saying the same about my generation. I think increasingly the armed forces should focus on the cadet forces not just as a source of recruitment but increasingly they’re the only contact most people have with anyone wearing service dress. Another problem is 50-60 years ago the forces were the only realistic way for young people to see the world. But today youngsters can afford to visit almost anywhere on the planet.


That is very true. Maybe the skills then; it costs a fortune to go to uni and the kids aren’t guaranteed good jobs at the end of it. Join up for the skills and trade.

andy reeves

in my last years of prison… sorry.. school, the old series of the 1977 series’sailor was shown in the hall every lunchtime planting the seed for a future course in life, serving you country doesn’t have the same kudos as it does lets say in the u.s made in the royal navy is the most dismal effort that the R.N has ever tried BRING BACK national service and the press gangs!!


AFCO’s are no longer staffed by Army Personnel.


The thing about Commonwealth recruits to the British Armed Forces is that in the main they speak English as a first language and come from countries with close links to the UK culturally and in terms of their Military traditions inherited from the old British Empire. Fijians, Gurkhas, Sikhs and men from the old Dominions for example blend well into the UK Military. I have a number of friends from Kwazulu-Natal who serve/have served in the British Army even though they are 2nd or 3rd generation Saffers with in some cases a relatively tenuous link with the “Old Country”. Despite… Read more »


Do they let American’s serve like Commonwealth citizens anymore or are we now considered hostile foreign nationals? 😀



I reckon Yanks would be welcome Helions. Time to re-join the Commonwealth!!


I knew several American’s serving in the Forces back in the day (all had British wives). It seems to me that with the number of U.S. expats in the UK some would want (and be qualified) to serve while others – especially U.S. veterans – would like to give it a try for a different military experience. The Aussies do recruit our folks. The son of my expat East Ender friend here has actually spoken about going back to the UK (his Mum is American) to join the RM. He’s still young though and has an option for UK citizenship.… Read more »

David E Flandry

Several Commonwealth nations have difficulty recruiting for their own military. I’m speaking of Canada, Australia, New Zealand mainly. Why would people in these nations be attracted to serving in the UK armed forces?


There is a big attraction for second generation Brits abroad to serve in UK forces. The Paras, RM etc have a unique pull and these people aren’t necessarily interested in serving in NZ, Aussie or Canadian armed forces. I recon they are missing a trick if they don’t try to recruit there.

Ian B

When you see any of the programmes showing Gurkha recruitment, you have lads walking a day or two just to get to the recruitment station. Even then, they only select 5-10 out of a few hundred. Why not raise a Gurkha brigade or a few more battalions? I live in a Gurkha town where they are stationed just outside the towns limits. They are attached to the Signals (I think). When they’re out shopping on a Saturday it’s a smart grey trousers, regimental blazer, shirt, tie etc. A real bloody credit to their nation, unit, families AND the British Army.… Read more »

Vernon Erasmus

Good Day Stuart , This is actually very sad that the British forces has not made their target, but i feel from a Commonwealth Applicant perspective is that when we apply to join the British Army we would like our Family close to us when we have completed Phase 2 training. Yes i know as a Soldier you go on many tours/training camps… but when you are done with a camps you would also like to go home to your wife and child and not have to leave the contry to see your loved ones. I did apply for the… Read more »


Hi Vernon. I have read your post and I like the points you’ve made.It was well put together.I am a commonwealth citizen who’s currently thinking about joining the UK army. I’ve been doing my research and so far I have come across information that leave me discouraged even though I really want to pursue this career. Do you or anyone here have any advice on what to do? It is a wonderful thing they’ve done lifting the requirements a bit but they could atlease provide /reccomend accommodation and / sponsors for persons who have no relatives nor friends in the… Read more »