A new statement of changes to the Immigration Rules was passed by Parliament on 14 May 2020 with great significance for British and Irish citizens born in Northern Ireland. Until now, the government had maintained that people born in Northern Ireland remained British under the law, even if they identify as Irish and had never had a British passport.

Emma De Souza took her case to the First Tier Tribunal when an application for a residence card under EU law for her US-born husband was rejected on the basis that she was deemed to be British by Virtue of the British Nationality Act 1981. She was initially successful but this was overturned by the Upper Tribunal. The case is currently listed for appeal in the Court of Appeal.

However, in the meantime there has been some controversy over the stance of the Home Office and whether or not it is in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement. The Good Friday Agreement allows people born in NI to identify as British, Irish or both. Indeed, the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recently stated that "it is my view that the British citizenship laws are out of step with the letter and spirit of that [Good Friday] Agreement". It is in this context that, as part of the deal to restore the Stormont Government, that the UK Government promised in the "New Decade, New Approach" document to address this issue.

This promise has now been addressed by the Home Office through the Statement of Changes which confirm that:

"The rule changes also mean that family members of British or dual British-Irish citizens from Northern Ireland will be able to apply for status under the EU Settlement Scheme. This delivers on the commitment the UK government made in the 'New Decade, New Approach' agreement in January 2020 which restored the power sharing executive in Northern Ireland."

The change means British and Irish citizens born in Northern Ireland will be treated as EU citizens for immigration purposes and will have the right to have a non-EU or non-EEA country spouse remain in the UK. This is significant as, unlike the costly UK immigration route, an application under the EU route is free. This route also does not contain many of the hurdles such as financial requirements that prevent many families from using the UK law immigration route. The new legislation will, however, cease when the EU settled status scheme ends in June 2021. It also means that British citizens born in Northern Ireland have greater immigration rights than their English, Scottish and Welsh counterparts.

This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. Please contact our immigration team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin for further advice or information.

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