Victory for the de Souzas and for Irish citizens’ immigration rights: a battle that should never have needed to be fought

Yet another example of ignorance of Northern Ireland affairs in different parts of the UK government. Derry born Emma de Souza has won her three year battle to allow her American husband Jake to live with her, an Irish citizen in Northern Ireland, without having to renounce her birthright as a British citizen which she doesn’t want to exercise. She wants to bring him in under EU therefore Irish not UK immigration laws. Her victory is a triumph of principle over expediency. It recognises  what the Home Office immigration people notorious for their tunnel vision appeared to deny; (or far more likely were at first simply not aware of the implications for NI as usual) – that the GFA allows NI natives to be British Irish or both.

Asserting this required three years of campaigning, pressure from the Irish government and  several court hearings at great expense which whether you like the ruling or not, should have been sorted out within government at the start. No great issue of principle was involved on the British side. They will have said to themselves in terms. “we can’t  be bothered with this. Let’s leave  it to the courts to decide or  it might even  go away “ instead of which it ended up at Brexit summits  between Leo Varakar and Theresa May,  the former long serving Home Secretary in charge of immigration, who was reportedly sympathetic to the de Souza cause. As the Guardian’s Lisa O’ Carroll reports..   

The change in law will have wide-reaching implications and enable all citizens in Northern Ireland the right to have a non-EU or non-EEA country spouse remain in the UK without having to go through the Home Office’s onerous and costly immigration system.

It means that British citizens in Northern Ireland will automatically have more rights than their counterparts in England, Wales and Scotland, who will still have to spend thousands of pounds going through the strict immigration route for non-EU or non-EEA spouses with no guarantee of success.

However it is only a temporary boon as any third country national who wishes to apply for settled status will only have until June 2021 to do so. This is the date the EU settlement scheme closes.

“While this is satisfying, it has not given legal effect to the Good Friday Agreement right to be Irish. Ireland updated its immigration laws to bring them into line in 1998 but the British did not,” said de Souza. “It is still an uphill battle.”

The  new immigration rules for Northern Ireland people  gives them as British or Irish citizens or both  more immigration rights  than GB born British citizens as the Law Centre NI explains in the Committee for the Administration for Justice ( CAJ)  website. It notably saves them time and money for  particular British visa applications. There is one snag: the new rules are time limited. Once introduced,  they should obviously be made permanent.

From 24 August 2020 eligible family members of ‘relevant’ people from Northern Ireland will be able to apply for UK immigration status under the EU Settlement Scheme. The changes mean people in Northern Ireland and their family members will enjoy the same rights as people in the Republic of Ireland.

Law Centre NI immigration solicitor, Ashleigh Garcia, said: “The impact of these changes cannot be overstated. Currently, family members of people from Northern Ireland have to meet financial and English language requirements, which often result in prolonged separation from their UK sponsor. Many also struggle with the cost for a family visa.

“The application process under the EU Settlement Scheme is also more flexible, allowing people to count years they have already spent in the UK, and allows for a longer continuous absence.

“The changes will essentially put ‘relevant’ citizens of Northern Ireland and their family members on a par with Irish citizens from the Republic of Ireland, as was the case prior to a 2011 Supreme Court judgement.

“The definition of a ‘relevant’ person has been drafted to strictly reflect the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

“The definition of a ‘relevant’ person has been drafted to strictly reflect the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Therefore, the benefits of the changes are contingent on the sponsor having been born in Northern Ireland, meaning that anyone born in other parts of the UK or overseas will be excluded. This is likely to raise issues of proportionality and discrimination between UK citizens.”

The Law Centre solicitor added: “If your sponsor is a person from Northern Ireland, you may be eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme, even if you are currently here in another immigration category. Please note that, although the status is likely to be retained for life, applications must be submitted by 30 June 2021. Please contact the Law Centre NI immigration advice line on (028) 9024 4401 if you are impacted by this change in the law.

 

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