UK changes Northern Ireland immigration rules after landmark case

By: AFP      Published: 11:45 PM, 14 May, 2020
UK changes Northern Ireland immigration rules after landmark case

The British government will alter immigration rules for Northern Ireland, a spokesman confirmed Thursday, after a landmark case challenged regulations over residency rights in the province.

The changes will allow for the family of anyone born in Northern Ireland, whether they identify as Irish or British, to apply for settled status in the UK under the scheme for European Union citizens.

The changes stem from the case of Northern Irish woman Emma De Souza and her American husband.

She identifies as Irish and holds a passport for the Republic under the provisions of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA), which ended the 30 years of conflict known as "The Troubles".

The GFA crucially allows those in Northern Ireland to identify as British or Irish, or both.

But when her US husband applied for residency as the partner of an Irish citizen, he was rejected on the grounds that she was automatically British by virtue of being born in Northern Ireland.

De Souza said that violated the principle of the GFA, which respects the right to Irish identity.

She was invited to renounce British citizenship to rely on her Irish papers, but did not wish to revoke a nationality she never felt she held.

"I discovered that my lifelong Irish identity is evidently considered secondary to an unclaimed British identity," she said. 

De Souza challenged the decision in successive courts.

The changes were presented to British parliament on Thursday and will come into effect in August.

The status "will be available to the family members of all the people of Northern Ireland, no matter whether the person of Northern Ireland holds British or Irish citizenship or both, and no matter how they identify," a Home Office note explains.

"We are delighted to see the British government move to fulfil their commitment to change the immigration rules," said De Souza in a statement. 

"We have always contended that no-one should be forced to adopt or renounce a citizenship in order to access rights." 

A UK government spokesman said the move demonstrated the administration's "continued and unwavering commitment" to the 1998 deal.