Many non-EU family members of UK citizens in Ireland have received a "worrying" letter from Irish authorities warning their right to reside would end in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“People were terrified when they got those letters,” says Cathal Malone, an immigration lawyer, whose clients received such letters from Irish authorities.
Until now this cohort have lived in Ireland under EU laws. The letters said such family members would be “transferred”to “domestic immigration arrangements” .
“A lot have suffered the long visa delays . . . applications have been refused on a thin basis,” Mr Malone said. “They’ve gone through a long, difficult, expensive process, and are now being told they’ll have some arrangement under national law. Those letters can only provoke anxiety on a massive scale.”
He is concerned about the lack of clarity about what such “domestic arrangements” will be.
One possible option would be to pass a law stating any family of a UK citizen in Ireland with a residence card at the date of no-deal will retain their rights.
Alternatively, those affected could become subject to the same rules as Irish citizens. However, this would mean a significant loss of certain rights given that EU rules on family reunification are more generous than national immigration law.
A return to the UK for affected families is unlikely be an option because it has “the harshest regime of family separation in Europe”, according to Chai Patel of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.
“If British citizens aren’t able to live with their spouses and children in Ireland, they’ll be even less likely to be able to do so in the UK.”
The Immigrant Council of Ireland says it first raised the issue with the Department of Justice at the end of 2017. Now, potentially less than two months away from a no-deal Brexit, there is still no clarity on what will happen.
According to Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, the lack of information is “massively problematic”, leaving clients worried and Nasc unable to properly advise them. “Having those letters go out in isolation without having further information available is going to cause worry and concern among a lot of people,” said Fiona Hurley of Nasc.
Immigration lawyer Wendy Lyon said the Irish Government hadn't said what would happen for people whose applications were still being processed.
“If they started refusing people on the grounds that the UK is no longer in EU, and their applications have been in there since 2015-2016, [the Government] are going to get absolutely swamped with court cases,” she said.
The Department of Justice said “a no-deal scenario will mean that a non-EEA person who is legally resident in Ireland on the basis of their familial relationship to a British citizen will no longer be covered by the provisions of the EU free movement directive and the exercise of EU treaty rights and entitlements.
It said it was putting in place interim arrangements for people in this group registered in Ireland before October 31st. Under these arrangements a person may change to a new permission based on domestic immigration arrangements. This will provide for their continued residence and access to the labour market in the State.”
“Non-EU/non-EEA family members of British citizen who currently have a residence card/permanent residence card application under consideration do not need to take any specific action at this time,” it said.