Shortage of Army vacancies leads to rejection of over 23,000 Commonwealth recruits in past 5 years


LONDON: More than 23,000 potential Army recruits from the Commonwealth have had their applications rejected in the past five years because of a shortage of vacancies.

Figures released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) reveal that last year 7,704 recruits from Commonwealth countries were rejected even though the Army is about 7,500 troops short of its required number of 82,000.

The MoD said that the high rejection rate is due to the limited number of vacancies combined with unprecedented interest in a military career from Commonwealth applicants. About 1,350 Commonwealth troops are allowed to join the armed forces every year, of which approximately 1,000 join the Army. However one former senior officer said rejecting potential recruits from Commonwealth countries when the army was short of troops was “nonsense”.

Col Phil Ingram, a former Army officer and author specialising in security and intelligence, said: “This just doesn’t make any sense, it’s complete nonsense to reject applications from Commonwealth recruits when the Army is so short of numbers. This is another example of real talent being rejected for no apparent reason.”

Last month, a senior official from the recruitment firm Capita told MPs that the medical requirements were so stringent that the England Rugby team would be refused entry. Richard Holroyd, the company’s managing director said that Capita had been targeting a total of 9,813 recruits for 2023/24 but has only been able to attract around 5,000 since April last year. Mr Holroyd highlighted that young people with tattoos above the collar line or on their hands, sufferers of hay fever and asthma, people with a high body mass index (BMI), and those who had broken bones in childhood were often ruled out. He added: “I think the current England rugby team would struggle to join the Army “Broken bones are a particular issue. A childhood rugby injury can preclude somebody and therefore we are constantly challenging the Army to relook at their policy and processes.” He said: “The amount of medical scrutiny that we now have, and the amount of medical evidence and medical science has progressed such that we have far much more data on people than we used to have.” Potential recruits with ‘sex act’ tattoos barred The figures also show that more than 70,000 potential soldiers were refused entry for medical issues such as nut allergies, asthma, and historical injuries such as bones broken in childhood. Details were released in a freedom of information request, which showed that in 2023/24 more than 23,000 potential recruits did not pass the initial selection procedure.

The FOI also revealed that 1,200 had been refused entry because of tattoos and piercings, while a further 400 army hopefuls were either unfit or possessed a high BMI. On its website, the Army tells recruits tattoos “that depict sex acts, violence or illegal drugs for example are a no-no”. The website also says that piercings which change the way someone looks are also a bar to joining. More than 6,000 potential soldiers were barred from joining because they did not complete their application forms properly, according to the figures. The MoD document disclosed that there were 50 separate categories under which potential recruits were refused entry to the armed forces. In the last 12 months alone more than 23,000 potential recruits have been rejected. Serving personnel who develop conditions such as allergies, mental health problems and even serious injuries are allowed to continue serving provided their conditions can be managed and they can continue to serve effectively. Potential recruits whose applications are rejected can apply again providing the refusal was not linked to a criminal record or a specific medical condition which is a bar to entry.

An Army spokesman said: “Citizens from the Commonwealth have a long tradition of serving with distinction in the Armed Forces and will always be an important and valued part of the fabric of the British Army. “In 2018 we expanded the number of roles available to Commonwealth personnel, while introducing a 15 per cent cap across all units.  Due to an unprecedented number of applications for a limited number of jobs, we are no longer inviting applications from Commonwealth nationals at this point but will keep this under review.”