As the Transition Period is coming to an end on 31 December 2020 and there is no sign of any extension through the Brexit negotiations, it seems that EU freedom of movement rights in the United Kingdom will not be available for much longer. However, a valuable new route to settlement for certain non EEA nationals has recently opened up specifically for Northern Irish citizens.

The background to this change to UK immigration law is following the recent case of De Souza which involved a Derry woman's lengthy fight over the residency rights of her US-born husband. In this case the Home Office had essentially argued that everyone in Northern Ireland is British from birth and so would be unable to rely on EU law to sponsor non EEA family members. The only way around this would have been for Ms De Souza to revoke her British citizenship. This was despite the fact that she had never held a British passport and did not consider herself to be British. There was a great deal of controversy over this case and whether or not the Home Office's position was in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement.

The result is that from 24 August 2020 changes to immigration law mean that all Northern Irish citizens – whether British, Irish or both are able to sponsor their non EEA family members under the settlement scheme. Unlike the family visa routes under UK immigration law which cost thousands of pounds, require multiple stressful applications and have very strict requirements, this route is free and much simpler.

Irish citizens born in the Republic of Ireland that are living in the UK will continue to have the right to bring their non EEA family members to the UK under the settlement scheme and these changes do not affect this.

It is important to note that this is a time limited offer and it is connected to the Brexit negotiations. To take advantage of this, affected Northern Irish citizens should look into this process now lest they lose the option post Brexit. Currently the relationship will need to be in existence and the Northern Irish citizen will have to be resident in UK by 31 December 2020. Therefore, Northern Irish expatriates looking to return home to the United Kingdom with their non EEA spouses may wish to do this sooner rather than later. They will also need to prove that at the time of their birth, they had at least one parent who held British, Irish or dual citizenship (or was without any restriction on their period of residence).

Employers too should take note as this may provide a time limited route for employees to apply for themselves or their family members. This could save employers time and money if they would have had to sponsor the employee for a work visa otherwise.

It is an unusual situation that Northern Irish born citizens will, for a short time, have access to broader family reunion rights that their counterparts born in Great Britain. However, the impact that this will have on affected families cannot be understated.

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.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.