The Australian Defence Force (ADF) will now allow recruits from foreign countries, including the UK, to help bolster its ranks.

Australia has been facing enlistment shortfalls as it seeks to strengthen its armed forces amidst growing regional threats.

Starting in July, New Zealand nationals who are permanent residents of Australia can apply to join the ADF, and from next year, this will extend to recruits from the UK, the US, Canada, and other countries.

Defence Minister Richard Marles stated that the changes in eligibility requirements are “essential to meet the nation’s security challenges through the next decade and beyond.”

Australia and New Zealand share a longstanding “Anzac bond,” with a history of fighting side-by-side at Gallipoli in World War One. In recent years, Australia has also sought to strengthen ties with the UK and the US, highlighted by the 2021 Aukus pact—a defense and security alliance aimed at countering Chinese military expansion in the Indo-Pacific region.

Additionally, Australia, the UK, the US, Canada, and New Zealand collaborate closely in intelligence sharing under the Five Eyes alliance.

While the primary focus is on recruiting individuals from these nations, Defence Personnel Minister Matt Keogh has stated that from January 1, “any” eligible permanent resident can apply.

Canberra has consistently expressed concerns about Beijing’s assertiveness, and a strategic review of the ADF last year emphasized the importance of “growth and retention of a highly skilled defence workforce” as a countermeasure.

In 2020, the previous government announced A$38bn (£19.8bn; $25.4bn) of funding to increase the number of uniformed personnel by 30% within two decades. However, Keogh noted that low unemployment levels in Australia have made recruitment “very difficult,” with recent government estimates indicating the ADF is already short by about 4,400 personnel.

While Australia has a history of accepting small numbers of military transfers from allied nations, the new eligibility rules aim to significantly expand the pool of potential recruits.

Prospective recruits must meet ADF entry standards, security requirements, have been permanent residents of Australia for over a year, and must not have served in a foreign military in the past two years. They must also be eligible for Australian citizenship, which they will be offered and “expected” to take up after 90 days of service, according to Keogh.

Opposition spokesman for foreign affairs Simon Birmingham stated that while they do not oppose the plan, the government’s defense strategy is undermining confidence and morale in the defence force. “We want to see, ideally, Australians wearing the Australian uniform,” Birmingham told Sky News Australia.

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