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New changes make it easier for NI family members to apply for immigration status

The Law Centre NI immigration hub has welcomed the announcement of changes to immigration rules for people in Northern Ireland. From 24 August 2020 eligible family members of ‘relevant’ people from Northern Ireland will be able to apply for UK immigration status under the EU Settlement Scheme. The changes mean people in Northern Ireland and their family members will enjoy the same rights as people in the Republic of Ireland.

Law Centre NI immigration solicitor, Ashleigh Garcia, said: “The impact of these changes cannot be overstated. Currently, family members of people from Northern Ireland have to meet financial and English language requirements, which often result in prolonged separation from their UK sponsor. Many also struggle with the cost for a family visa.

“The application process under the EU Settlement Scheme is also more flexible, allowing people to count years they have already spent in the UK, and allows for a longer continuous absence.”

“The changes will essentially put ‘relevant’ citizens of Northern Ireland and their family members on a par with Irish citizens from the Republic of Ireland, as was the case prior to a 2011 Supreme Court judgement.”

“The definition of a ‘relevant’ person has been drafted to strictly reflect the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Therefore, the benefits of the changes are contingent on the sponsor having been born in Northern Ireland, meaning that anyone born in other parts of the UK or overseas will be excluded. This is likely to raise issues of proportionality and discrimination between UK citizens.”

The Law Centre solicitor added: “If your sponsor is a person from Northern Ireland, you may be eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme, even if you are currently here in another immigration category. Please note that, although the status is likely to be retained for life, applications must be submitted by 30 June 2021. Please contact the Law Centre NI immigration advice line on (028) 9024 4401 if you are impacted by this change in the law.”


  • A ‘relevant’ person from NI is defined as a person who is British, Irish, or both; who was born in Northern Ireland; and whose parents were British, Irish, both or had settled status at the time of their birth.
  • A family visa costs ¬£1,523 for the visa and ¬£1000 for the immigration health surcharge.
  • A grant of leave under the FM Appendix is usually for 2.5 years, with an expectation of further extension applications before settlement.
  • Under the EU Settlement Scheme, most applications involve a 30 minute online application, with minimal evidence required. The application is free and the grant of leave is for five years. Those who have already spent a five year period in the UK may be eligible for settlement straight away, unlike the FM Appendix which does not recognise residence prior to leave. Additionally, the EU Settlement Scheme allows for a longer period of continuous absence.
  • The Supreme Court Judgement was McCarthy v SSHD [2011] C-434/09