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Brexit and Northern Ireland – Current immigration law between the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the UK

Post-Brexit there will likely be a significant change to EU nationals’ free movement rights in the UK. However all parties so far have suggested that the immigration rules should be maintained within the spirit of what is currently in place, which we explain here.

Current immigration law

A combination of the Common Travel Area (CTA), EU free movement laws, the Ireland Act 1949 and the Good Friday Agreement 1998 governs immigration between Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Common Travel Area

  • Established in 1922
  • A special travel zone between the Republic of Ireland and the UK, Isle of Man and Channel Islands
  • Nationals of CTA countries can travel freely within the CTA without being subject to passport controls
  • Very few immigration checks at all for journeys started within CTA territories

EU free movement law

  • Provides EU citizens with the right to reside in another EU Member State for up to three months without any conditions other than the requirement to hold a valid identity card or passport
  • After three months they must fall into following categories in order to remain:
    • Worker/self-employed
    • Job-seeker
    • Self-sufficient person
    • Student
    • Family member accompanying or joining an EU citizen who fits into one of the above categories
  • Permanent residence after five years (if legally resident and possessed comprehensive sickness insurance during that period)

Ireland Act

Largely since the Ireland Act, Irish citizens have had a special status in UK law. They are not considered ‘aliens’.

Although subject to some immigration controls, Irish citizens are treated as if they have permanent permission to remain in the UK/ ‘settled status’ from the date they take up ‘ordinary residence’, as well as having other rights to work without permission etc. For more information see section 2 of the British Government’s Position Paper, 16 August 2017.[1]

Therefore, they have long had more rights than other EU/ EEA nationals resident in the UK. There are similar reciprocal rights for British citizens in the Republic.[2]

Good Friday Agreement

Since the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement was signed in 1998, Northern Irish citizens have had the right to hold British nationality or Irish nationality, or both, and there has been no hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. The Agreement fundamentally underpins the current position of Irish, Northern Irish and British immigration law. In addition, the signing of the Agreement signalled the end of a violent and bloody chapter in Irish and Northern Irish and, although tensions remain, nobody wishes to see a return to the ‘Troubles’.

To read the full Brexit and Northern Ireland series, click here.

For more information or advice about immigration, please contact:

Angharad Birch
Trainee Solicitor
T. 020 7227 7270

[1] UK Government Position Paper, Northern Ireland and Ireland, 16 August 2017
[2] Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (Irish Citizenship Rights) Order 1949

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