Home Office tells woman born in Northern Ireland to 'prove right to live in Belfast'
A woman born and brought up in Northern Ireland has said she has been "left in limbo" after being asked by the Home Office to provide proof she is entitled to permanent residency in Belfast.
Gemma Capparelli, 36, has recently returned to Northern Ireland with her American husband Dominic, 38, and their 10-year-old son, after living abroad for more than 10 years.
Ms Capparelli identifies as Irish, as she is entitled to do under the Good Friday Agreement.
The couple ran into difficulties when Mr Capparelli applied to be in the country as the family member of an European Economic Area national living in the UK.
The form gave him four categories under which to apply, but he says none reflected the status of those in Northern Ireland who identify as Irish citizens under the Good Friday Agreement.
Ms Capparelli also renounced her British citizenship because she was concerned the Home Office would consider her British and force her husband to go through the more stringent and expensive route for non-EU nationals married to Britons.
The couple say their application was refused on the grounds that Ms Capparelli, as the "sponsor", did not show any evidence that she had permanent residency, despite including her birth certificate showing she was born in the UK in 1981.
The couple say the Home Office told them their right to permanent residence had expired because they had been out of the country for two years.
The Belfast Telegraph understands the Home Office's stance is that the decision on Mr Capparelli's application was not reached on the basis of Mrs Capparelli's citizenship but because it did not meet the criteria under EU law.
Because Ms Caparelli has renounced her British citizenship this means she is now solely an Irish citizen and can exercise her EU treaty rights in the UK under the free movement directive.
The Home Office is contacting Mr Capparelli to assist him with the application.
Mr Capparelli told the Guardian: “We were floored by the letter which essentially said you have no right to be in Northern Ireland."
Mrs Capparelli said: “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.”
Sinn Fein Seanadoir Niall O Donnghaile said: “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 added: “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.”
The Home Office said it is "absolutely committed" to upholding the Good Friday Agreement" and respects the right of the people of Northern Ireland to choose how they identify.
Belfast Telegraph Digital