Shevron Louis was born in St Lucia, but always felt a natural affinity with Britain. As a young man he worked for a French construction company, but after a few years he began hankering for a new challenge and decided to join the British Army.
“I wanted to do something new,” he recalled. “Obviously England fought for my country so it was a sort of payback thing. I always wanted to travel, and there’s nowhere else I wanted to go other than England. I wanted to come here, join the Army, then go back home and feel like the king.”
The 29-year-old said Britain felt like a “big freezer” when he arrived in the country for the first time in 2009. Having kept fit in St Lucia by running on the beach, he breezed through his Army training and served for three years with The Yorkshire Regiment, including in the Falklands.
But he said “everything changed” when he sustained an injury and was medically discharged. Suddenly, he found himself alone in his adopted country with nowhere to go – and only 28 days to decide whether to apply to work in Britain or return home.
“When I first came out of the Army, if somebody told me to go left I would go left,” he said. “I was lost. No-one really said anything to me – I didn’t know where to go or what to do. In the Army I was getting praised, but the minute I was downgraded nobody spoke to me.”
Mr Louis is one of many foreign-born veterans who have served in the UK Armed Forces only to find themselves in immigration limbo afterwards. The military charity Veterans Aid, one of two being supported by The Independent’s appeal, recently reported a rise in the number of ex-servicemen and women seeking help for similar reasons.
Mr Louis applied for a work permit, but the complex application process left him facing high legal fees and delays of more than six months, during which time he was unable to work. He sold his car to cover the costs and was forced to live in a loft in East London, before contacting Veterans Aid for help.
The charity gave him free advice about his case before offering him a post as a volunteer while he waited for his work permit to be approved. He now believes he would have become homeless if he had not approached the charity for help. “It was a very upsetting time for me. I would just break down in tears sometimes,” he said.
When his paperwork was in order, Veterans Aid also paid for him to attend a training course. He now works as a scaffolder and says he intends to apply for indefinite leave to remain and then full British citizenship. “I support England 100 per cent. I like England,” he said.
The other charity being supported by The Independent’s appeal, ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, has given grants to many foreign-born veterans. One of them is Jessica Joseph, 37, who like Mr Louis is originally from St Lucia. She joined the British Army in 2002 because she wanted to see more of the world, leaving in 2013 after being deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.
The Soldiers’ Charity gave her a £500 grant when she left her Army accommodation and moved into a flat in West Sussex, which she used to pay for bedroom furniture, a table and chairs. “When I found out, I said a prayer to God saying thank you so much, and said that over and over to my case worker,” she said.
“I like to recognise people who do good things for me so just kept saying thank you so much. It helped make the flat a home for my daughter. People shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes you just need it, Army or not. It helped me and my daughter a lot, we can call here home now so I’m very grateful for that.”
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