Boris Johnson’s olive branch on family migration to Northern Ireland

The Irish Times has recently published its report on the recent visit of the UK Prime Minister to Belfast.

The text of this report states as follows:

The UK Government has reviewed the consistency of its family migration arrangements, taking into account the letter and spirit of the Belfast Agreement and recognising that the policy should not create incentives for renunciation of British citizenship by those citizens who may wish to retain it.

The UK Government will change the rules governing how the people of Northern Ireland bring their family members to the UK. This change will mean that eligible family members of the people of Northern Ireland will be able to apply for UK immigration status on broadly the same terms as the family members of Irish citizens in the UK.

This immigration status will be available to the family members of all the people of Northern Ireland, no matter whether they hold British or Irish citizenship or both, no matter how they identify themselves.

What are the implications of this for people from Northern Ireland hoping to sponsor family members for visas?

Northern Ireland and the EU Settlement Scheme

Boris Johnson’s olive branch should mean that many people from Northern Ireland are able to sponsor non-European spouses and other family members by applying under the EU Settlement Scheme. That is because people from the Republic of Ireland are able to do so, and the commitment is to put the people of Northern Ireland in “broadly the same” position.

But it does not address the more complex situations thrown up by the operation of the EU Settlement Scheme. For example, the Settlement Scheme excludes people who have residence rights as the family member of a dual national.

An additional issue is the situation of family members whose sponsors have died.

The Home Office says that such people are not entitled to settled status, only pre-settled status, despite having five years together in the UK as spouses. Furthermore, there is no certainty that they will be entitled to apply for settled status when the five years of pre-settled status elapses, and the pre-settled status is not renewable. 

What are the advantages of the EU Settlement Scheme for Northern Ireland?

Some of the advantages of this switch would be as follows:

  • zero application fee for indefinite leave to remain (settled status) granted under the EU Settlement Scheme
  • no Immigration Health Surcharge requirement for limited leave to remain (pre-settled status) under the Settlement Scheme
  • no English language requirement whatsoever
  • permitted absences of up to six months per year while on pre-settled status without losing the right to proceed to settled status
  • permitted absences of up to five years without losing settled status

The list is not final. The EU Settlement Scheme, for those that can avail of it, is clearly superior than the comparative position under the EEA Regulations and vastly superior to the position for those who seek, or who have obtained, indefinite leave to remain under the Immigration Rules.


Posted on Jan 23, 2020.

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