Author: Emma DeSouza
A woman from Northern Ireland at the centre of a citizenship dispute with the British Home Office has cautiously welcomed Theresa May’s “urgent review” of immigration laws.
The UK government rejected Emma DeSouza’s American husband’s application for a visa over her refusal to call herself British.
The couple were told after their wedding in 2015 that Jake’s application for a family member residence card to remain in Northern Ireland had been rejected because Ms DeSouza applied for the visa as an Irish national.
She was told that, under British nationality laws, she was a British citizen because she was born in Northern Ireland.
During a visit to Northern Ireland on Tuesday, Mrs May said she has ordered the review to ensure equal treatment for people in Northern Ireland who hold Irish citizenship.
Under the terms of the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998, people from Northern Ireland have the right to hold UK or Irish citizenship, or both.
Ms DeSouza and others have claimed they were being forced to declare as British, or formally renounce British citizenship they insist they never held, to engage with the residency application process.
The Home Office has appealed against a ruling in favour of the DeSouzas in November 2017.
Ms DeSouza, from Londonderry, said she was “shocked and surprised” that the Prime Minister publicly addressed the issue but added she was sceptical whether it would become a reality.
“This is not a small thing, it’s been happening for a long time and I am not the only case. There are countless other families affected and families who have had to go through court cases or forced and renounce British citizenship or have went through all different kinds of processes,” she added.
“The only reason we ended up in this situation is because of the lack of legislative protections for citizens in Northern Ireland because the Good Friday Agreement has not been fully implemented, it hasn’t been brought into UK domestic law means there is a gap in legislation in UK legislation that was leaving citizens vulnerable.
“Even if Theresa May goes back to the Home Office and the Secretary of State and they resolve this issue with immigration, that won’t take away from the wider issue that there is still a legislative gap that will only widen after Brexit.
“Here we are 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement and we don’t have any of these promises that were made to us and now we have Brexit coming which is the greatest threat to the Agreement.
“There is nothing stopping the UK Government from distancing itself from its commitments.
“It’s good news on one hand but, on the other, how will it be realised?”
She said it will not be a “quick solution” and is creating a sense of hope for members of the Nationalist community.