Brexit limbo for non-EU people in Ireland with UK spouse

Brexit limbo for non-EU people in Ireland with UK spouse
Young campaigners against Britain leaving the EU protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London yesterday. Picture: Luciana Guerra.

British citizens will still have the right to live and work here, but their non-EU family won’t, say Luke Butterly, Samir Jeraj, and Natalie Bloomer.

British MPs voted in favour of an election this week, but the uncertainty surrounding Brexit continues.

This is particularly true for non-EU family members of UK citizens living in Ireland.

Currently, thanks to EU free movement rules, an EU citizen (in this case, British) can move to another EU country (in this case, Ireland) with their non-EU spouses with ease and without having to meet domestic requirements, such as income thresholds.

Post-Brexit, arrangements under the Common Travel Area will continue to protect the rights of British citizens to live and work in Ireland. But these do not cover their non-EU family members living with them.

In August, many families in this situation received letters from Irish immigration authorities warning that their right to reside in the country would end in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Despite assurances from the Department of Justice that it wants to ensure a “smooth transition” to new arrangements, there are no details about what this will be in practice.

British prime minister Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement would retain the current situation until the end of a transition period, perhaps in December 2020. After that, the Irish Government would need to introduce a new system for people living in the country under these rules.

Sam Tranum and his wife, Lois Kapila, moved to Ireland six years ago. Together, they started a small business (they run the independent newspaper the Dublin Inquirer), made friends, and created a happy life. That was all thrown into turmoil when the UK voted to leave the EU.

Tranum, who is from the US, met his British wife while travelling in Kyrgyzstan. They lived in India and America before considering moving to the UK.

But the country’s immigration laws meant that Lois didn’t earn enough money for a spouse to join her there. In 2012, then British home secretary, Theresa May, introduced new rules to make it more difficult for British citizens to have their family from outside of the EU join them.

This included the requirement for British citizens to earn at least £18,600 per year.

Feeling disheartened at the situation in the UK, Sam and Lois moved to Ireland. Then, Brexit happened.

“I felt terrible” says Tranum, recalling the day the result was announced. “The Trump election and the Brexit vote were around the same time, and both of us felt it was a national disaster for each of us. We both felt really depressed about what was going on in our countries.”

Tranum was concerned about the political situation, but he didn’t consider that it could affect his immigration status. “For a couple of years, [there was] nothing; it seemed nothing in particular was happening with Brexit,” he says.

Then, around the first deadline of when [the UK] was going to leave, there were details of what Brexit was going to mean and news reports of what was going to happen to EU citizens living in the UK or Brits living in the south of Spain, that kind of thing.

“It occurred to me that my status was contingent on Lois’s country being in the EU.”

Tranum is among thousands of people who received letters from the Irish authorities, warning that, as a non-EU family member of a British citizen, his right to reside in Ireland would end in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The letter said those affected would be transferred to “domestic arrangements”, but there was no clarity about what this would mean. It also asked for people to confirm their current address.

The last time Tranum renewed his permanent residence card with the immigration authorities, he asked the person on the desk to clarify what would happen once the Brexit deadline had passed. Nobody was able to give him a clear answer.

Eimear Nugent, a solicitor with immigration law specialists Berkeley Solicitors, said the lack of clarity makes it difficult for lawyers to properly advise their clients.

However, she said those with pending applications are potentially in an even more precarious position.

She said people in this category are facing lengthy delays, and “have been left totally in the dark with regards to their position post-Brexit.”

Of the 5,230 EU Treaty Rights residence applications received in 2018, close to a quarter were from family members of a British citizen living in Ireland, according to figures released to the Irish Examiner from the Department of Justice.

There are also concerns about UK citizens who are waiting for their non-EU family members to join them.

Many are experiencing significant delays in the processing of these entry visa applications. While such visas are supposed to be processed in under six months, waits of over two years are not uncommon.

Last year, the Court of Appeal said it was concerned the delays might breach European law.

Lawyers and NGOs have warned that UK citizens with family members from countries such as Pakistan or Bangladesh are facing particularly long delays.

In 2018, 2,845 EU Treaty Rights visa applications were received, according to the Department of Justice.

The department said it could not say how many of these related to British nationals, as the information “is not maintained by the department, at present, and the effort required to extract this data could not be justified by the department at this time”.

Nugent says that it is unsatisfactory that no correspondence has been issued to the families affected and that many people in this position have already been subject to lengthy visa-processing times, some upwards of two years or more.

“Despite the delays, there is no guarantee or communication from the minister, with respect to how their visa applications will be handled post-Brexit,” she says.

Nugent has called on the justice minister to communicate transparently with all applicants within the immigration system affected by Brexit.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said:

“Transitional arrangements for non-EEA spouses or family members of British citizens legally residing in Ireland are still being considered in light of the evolving situation.

“It is the department’s intention to identify the most beneficial immigration arrangements for such people.”

More on this topic

Hard Brexit ‘not a realistic expectation’, says Ray O’RourkeHard Brexit ‘not a realistic expectation’, says Ray O’Rourke

Brexit ‘will present a tsunami of building opportunities’Brexit ‘will present a tsunami of building opportunities’

Johnson and Corbyn clash on Northern Ireland in TV head-to-head election debateJohnson and Corbyn clash on Northern Ireland in TV head-to-head election debate

Michael Clifford: No going back for new British projectMichael Clifford: No going back for new British project