Derry woman’s husband denied visa as she refuses to identify as British

Couple in Belfast waiting nearly two years for spousal visa from UK Home Office

“I was raised to believe I could be Irish-only in Northern Ireland.” Above, Emma DeSouza and her husband, Jake. Photograph: Emma DeSouza

“I was raised to believe I could be Irish-only in Northern Ireland.” Above, Emma DeSouza and her husband, Jake. Photograph: Emma DeSouza

 

A Northern Irish woman who “only identifies as Irish” has expressed dismay at the UK government’s rejection of her American husband’s application for a visa after she refused to call herself British.

Emma DeSouza was told in September 2016 that her husband’s application for a family member residence card to remain in Northern Ireland had been rejected. The UK Home Office rejected the application because Ms DeSouza applied for the visa as an Irish national, informing her that under British nationality laws she was a British citizen.

As a British citizen, she was informed that she could renounce her citizenship and reapply as an Irish citizen to ensure her husband’s visa. However, Ms DeSouza says she will not sign any declaration that indicates she is British.

Under the Belfast Agreement people born in Northern Ireland can choose to be British citizens, Irish citizens or have dual citizenship.

“I only hold an Irish passport and I’ve only every identified as Irish,” Ms DeSouza told The Irish Times. “At no point have I been a dual national. I was raised to believe I could be Irish-only in Northern Ireland.”

Ms DeSouza and her husband, Jake, were married in Belfast in July 2015. She is from the town of Magherafelt, Co Derry, and he is from Los Angeles.

Ms DeSouza believed the visa process would take less than six months. She describes the nearly two years that have passed since her husband’s application as “beyond a nightmare”. Mr DeSouza has been unable to leave Northern Ireland since he filed the application along with his American passport. A musician, he recently had to pull out of the band he plays with because he could not join them on tour.

“Jake not being able to go home is the hardest part,” said Ms DeSouza. “Two of his uncles have died since this started. Now that we’re in the appeals process, they don’t return the passport, they hold on to it until the very end. Technically he’s legally allowed to be in the UK while we’re waiting, but how can he board a flight without his passport?

Mr DeSouza also had to stop driving after his year-long licence as a US national expired. “He was able to work and gig before when he could drive, but now he’s very restricted.”

‘Ignoring’ Belfast Agreement

Ms DeSouza has accused the UK Home Office of “either choosing to ignore the Good Friday Agreement or failing to fully understand it”. She says the couple could move to the Republic and reapply for the visa through the Irish Government, but south of the Border is not home. “We’re settled in Belfast. We have two dogs and we don’t see the need to move. I thought I had this right from birth.”

They have appealed the Home Office’s decision on the grounds that Ms DeSouza is not a dual national, has never held a British passport and has the right to be treated as an Irish national only.

A statement from the Home Office said it did not comment on individual cases and that all applications would be considered “on their individual merits in line with the relevant legislation and published guidance”.

“If a British citizen or a person holding dual British nationality in Northern Ireland wishes to regularise the stay of a non-European spouse or civil partner, they may make an application under the immigration rules,” it said.

It added that “if an Irish citizen in Northern Ireland wishes to regularise the stay of a non-European spouse or civil partners, they may choose to apply for a document confirming their right to reside in the United Kingdom. This application is made under the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016. This requires that the Irish citizen satisfies the criteria of the regulations in the same way as any other citizen of the European Union.”