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Scotland star threatened with deportation 'halfway through 22 years of service to Queen and Country'

By Paul Smith
Junior Bulumakau was threatened with deportation halfway through his Army career (pic: British Army Rugby/Bulumakau family)

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“I grant you 28 days leave to remain in the United Kingdom without permission to work or recourse to public funds. This leave expires of February 4th 2022.”

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A standard Home Office letter landed on the doormat of a family home in Inverness during mid-January. Nothing remarkable in that you might think – even given that the recipient was former Scotland Sevens star Junior Bulumakau plus his Scottish-born wife Heather and children Roana and Noah.

What made this incident somewhere between unfortunate and outrageous depending on your viewpoint, is that the 30-year-old Fijian-born winger in his professional capacity is and will -promotion depending – for the next decade be Private Bulumakau of 3rd Battalion, Royal Scots Borderers, The Black Watch.

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Bulumakau is 12 years into a 22-year military career, and as a result was more than a little surprised to receive a letter which the Home Office subsequently described as “an admin error.”

“A nice letter to receive on a Friday afternoon,” he Tweeted. “Home Office kicking me out of the country in the next few weeks without any prior warning. I’ve only lived here since I was eight and am halfway through my 22 years in the Army. Wouldn’t mind a holiday to Fiji anyway!”

In addition to thrilling rugby fans in the English Championship, the former Doncaster and Coventry winger in 2015 scored a hat-trick and was named man-of-the-match for the Army against the Navy in front of a packed Twickenham.

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In the country he has called home since his arrival aged eight, after rising to prominence as an amateur the likeable winger represented Glasgow Warriors then in 2016 fulfilled a long-held dream by scoring a try for Scotland against South Africa on the World Sevens Circuit.

After arriving in the UK in 1999, Bulumakau was educated in Edinburgh then followed his Father Bainivalu, who previously represented Fiji at sevens, into the British Army and is extremely proud of the year they spent serving alongside each other.

His younger brother Andy, who currently plays in the centre for National One Birmingham Moseley, is also well-known in English club rugby after the pair shared spells with the Knights and at Coventry. Both qualified to represent Scotland through residency but hold Fijian passports.

Social media was quick to support Bulumakau who after six operations on his ACL is mixing recuperation with a spell coaching Scotland League Division One Highland whose promotion rivals include famous names such as Melrose, Heriots, Gala and Kelso.

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Prominent among his supporters was Bath forward Josh McNally, also a serving member of the armed forces with the RAF, who Tweeted: “I’m not sure how this works!! He has served this country and now is being asked to leave. Ridiculous.”

Junior Bulumakau scores for the Army (pic: British Army Rugby)

Leicester’s Premiership star and a fellow Fijian Nemani Nadolo also voiced his support: “Halfway through year 22 of service to Queen and Country! Getting kicked out to a country that would be so foreign…not mentioning my man represented Scotland in 7s..”

But Bulumakau’s sudden dilemma took its biggest leap into public awareness when former Daily Mirror editor turned TV personality Piers Morgan advised his 7.9 million followers and the Home Secretary: “Absolutely outrageous – good enough to serve this country but not good enough to live here? Fix this please @pritipatel – urgently.”

Support flooded in as the wider public became aware of Bulumakau’s situation. Scanning down his Twitter feed it is interesting to see just how much of this came from veterans or from families of those who have gone through similar experiences.

Typical of this was: “An absolute shambles, anyone who serves Queen and Country should be given automatic allowance to stay in this country. The way they treat both serving soldiers and veterans is an absolute disgrace. Thank you for your service Junior.”

The story has a happy ending since Bulumakau’s immediate superiors quickly made contact with the Home Office to remedy the situation.

“Thankfully I have the full support of the British Army and have a further 10 years left of service,” he Tweeted a couple of days later.

“It looks to be an error on the Home Office side. Still a shock to see how easy it is to kick Commonwealth soldiers out once their service is done.”

Speaking exclusively to RugbyPass, Bulumakau revealed how shocked he was to receive the letter, and said as a result he is stepping up his support for a military veterans’ support campaign fronted by among others Johnny Mercer MP and Dan Jarvis MP.

This pressure group is lobbying the Government to remove sizeable visa fees which face Commonwealth soldiers and their families seeking ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’ in the UK at the end of their military careers.

“I’m still serving, so I never expected anything like that and when I opened the letter I got a real shock,” he said.

“I spoke to my chain of command and it has all been sorted out, so my main aim now is to highlight to people about the unfairness of fees facing Commonwealth soldiers.

This situation confronted the Bulumakau family when Junior and Andy’s father completed his 22-year term with 1 Scots. At the current cost of living level, a family of four must find nearly £10,000 in order to stay in the country they have served and which over 20-plus years has become home.

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