A South African doctor and her English husband live apart, on both sides of the Irish border, because of what one member of parliament has described as a “virtually unconstitutional” application of post-Brexit migration rules. Corrienne and Brett Giles are separated by the 40 kilometers that separate the counties of Donegal (Ireland) and Derry (Northern Ireland) respectively. Corrinne lives in a “permanent state of anxiety” as she waits for family leave to join her husband in the UK.
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The emergency doctor, who worked on the front line against COVID-19, is unemployed and “carrying a suitcase”, waiting for a family residence permit to reunite with her husband, because she decided not to extend her employment contract in Ireland , as he had plans to emigrate soon to the United Kingdom.
Eight months later, he faces the possibility of returning to South Africa when his residence permit in Ireland expires. You could risk deportation if you are found illegally entering Northern Ireland.
Since Britain left the European Union (EU), spouses of UK citizens must apply for the pre-residence permit before March 29, 2022 if they want to return to the country without a visa as a family member of a British citizen. They can only do this if they first acquire a new EU family permit for the UK.
Before Brexit, relatives of British citizens could return to the UK at any time, without the need for a visa, under free movement laws that applied to spouses from the EU and non-EU countries. After Brexit, that route was terminated, but the UK government, under pressure, promised to keep the visa-free door open until March of the following year, allowing non-British spouses to apply for pre-residence or residence permits.
But his residence permit for being a family member from the EU ceased to be recognized after Brexit by the Home Office, which now requires applicants to have a specific authorization from the United Kingdom.
Five months waiting for an answer
After living in South Africa for 15 years, the Giles moved to Ireland two years ago, to be closer to their family in the UK while Corrinne worked in the emergency unit at Letterkenny University Hospital.
Their odyssey began eight months ago, when they began to explore their options for moving to England. They found there was a visa-free route for Corrinne under a side-Brexit deal, which allowed non-EU citizens to enter the UK, provided they first got a family permit from the Home Office.
Brett, who works in marketing, moved across the border to Derry in Northern Ireland, having read a guide on the Government website that said UK citizens must return before the end of December of the year. last, to exercise your rights of free movement in the EU. The page said that the process to get the required permit would be delayed a few weeks, which did not seem like a high price to pay.
Five months later, however, there are no signs of a family leave and the Ministry of the Interior has only communicated that the application is in the system. Meanwhile, Corrinne, 48, lives in a room in Letterkenny and cannot sign up to work in the Irish health services or the British National Health Service.
“Mentally and physically exhausted”
“I am emotionally drained and mentally and physically exhausted,” she says. “I live in a permanent state of anxiety every day, waiting for emails that will determine my future.”
“The gap in my career grows substantially all the time. Not having any kind of response or communication from the Ministry of the Interior is absolute torture. Never, not even in my worst nightmares, did I think that two years after arriving in Europe I would be sitting waiting. , unemployed, disillusioned, disheartened, “she continues.
“All I want is a normal life. Also, my whole family is in the UK, my brothers, my sisters, my mother, and I am completely alone in a strange context, and it becomes increasingly difficult for me to continue. with this life. ”
Irish MP Colum Eastwood, who has been supporting the couple, says they had been answered “stubbornly by the Home Office at all times”. The parliamentary representative questions “how can the Ministry of the Interior not have carried out the necessary reviews in this time frame”.
Member of Parliament for the Labor Party, Peter Kyle, who defends measures of a similar positionHe has said: “The government has completely forgotten that it is here to serve the British citizens.”
At least a dozen other families have shared their stories with The Guardian, including a mother who has returned to the UK from France with her seven-year-old son, separating him from his French father who is also on the long waiting list at the Home Office; a gay British man desperate to return to Britain with his 26-year-old Italian partner; and a German woman who has been waiting since April for his permission to reunite with her British husband.
“Being this hostile and obfuscating British citizens, making it difficult for a British citizen to even receive information on how to resolve a situation caused by government policy is practically unconstitutional,” Kyle said.
A representative from the Interior Ministry declined to comment on specific cases. “Qualified relatives of British citizens returning with them from the European Union to the UK should apply for a family permit from the EU residency program. Each case will be reviewed as quickly as possible and on its individual merits, but the timing of Processing may vary depending on the volume and complexity of the requests, “he said.
According to it, the cases are being “considered strictly according to the date of application”, which suggests a delay of five months in the study of the files of British citizens living in the EU. The Ministry of the Interior, added the same sources, “will continue to review its staffing.”
Translation by Ignacio Rial-Schies