Home Office tells Northern Ireland woman to prove she has the right to live in her native Belfast
A Belfast woman who applied for a residency document for her US husband has been told by the Home Office that she needs to prove she has the right to live in Northern Ireland.
Gemma Capparelli (36), who identifies as Irish, said she has been left in limbo after her 38-year-old Chicago-born husband Dominic's application was turned down. The couple recently arrived in Northern Ireland with their 10-year-old son, after living abroad for a decade, and Dominic applied for residency as the family member of an European Economic Area national living in the UK
He was refused, however, on the grounds that his wife showed no evidence of permanent residency - even though she had included her birth certificate that proves she was born in the UK in 1981.
Gemma said she can't believe the authorities are questioning her right to live in her native Belfast just because she married an American.
"It's causing us a lot of stress," she told The Guardian.
"I never thought coming home would cause such angst."
Under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, all citizens born in Northern Ireland have the unique right within the UK to have Irish or British citizenship or both.
Gemma also renounced her British citizenship, at a cost of £400, because she was concerned the Home Office would consider her British and force her husband to go through the more onerous and expensive route for non-EU nationals married to Britons.
The Home Office told the couple that their right of permanent residence had expired due to the fact that they had been out of the country for over two years.
"We were floored by the letter which essentially said you have no right to be in Northern Ireland," Dominic said.
Gemma added: "I feel The Home Office really are not living up to the Good Friday Agreement.
"They are saying I'm not even a resident in my own country. It is mind-boggling. You feel like you are in limbo."
The Home Office ruling comes months after a court told another Northern Irish woman, Emma de Souza, who identifies as Irish that her US husband should be allowed to live with her in Londonderry without going through immigration procedures.
Kim Vowden, an immigration lawyer at Kingsley Napley, said the issue had arisen because permanent residency is a legal concept for immigration purposes and not a birthright.
He told the Belfast Telegraph: "It's an EU law concept for somebody who has moved to another EU country and has lived there for five years."
Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile criticised the Home Office's insistence that Gemma provides proof that she is entitled to permanent residency in Belfast.
"It is simply ludicrous that the British Home Office is insisting that Gemma Capparelli who was born in the north provides proof that she is entitled to permanent residency in Belfast," he said.;
"This is a matter of some significance because the Good Friday Agreement, which is endorsed by the Irish and British governments, makes it clear that people born in the north can 'identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may choose and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both Irish and British citizenship is accepted by both governments.
"It is high time the British Home Office, recognised the core legal components of the Agreement, instead of forcing Irish citizens in the north to endure months of trauma and uncertainty simply for exercising their rights as Irish and EU citizens."
Under British law, non-EU citizens married to British citizens are required to go through an immigration and visa entry system that is both expensive and onerous.
Under EU law, EU nationals who move to Britain or return to Britain after living in the EU are, by contrast, free to have a non-EU spouse enter the country without going through third country immigration procedures.
Dominic's lawyer has written to the Home Office asking them to reconsider the application and they have also lodged an appeal against the decision with a tribunal.
It is understood the Home Office is contacting the family to assist them in finding the right route for residency papers.