There appears to be a recent worrying change in policy within the Family Reunification Section of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Services regarding refugee family reunification applications made under Section 18 of the Refugee Act 1996 by naturalised refugees.
The refugee process, including that of family reunification, was previously governed by the Refugee Act 1996. Section 18 of the 1996 Act governed the process of family reunification for refugees in the Irish State. It allowed refugees residing in Ireland to apply to the Minister to obtain permission for a member of their family to enter and reside in the State.
The law governing this area recently changed, with the introduction of the International Protection Act 2015. The 2015 Act, which came into effect on 31st December 2016, covers all international protection issues from this date on. Family reunification for refugees who have declared status under the 2015 Act is governed by sections 56 and 57 of the 2015 Act.
Significantly, section 47 (9) of the 2015 Act specifically states that a refugee loses their refugee status if they become a naturalised Irish citizen:
“A refugee declaration or a subsidiary protection declaration given, or deemed to have been given, under this Act shall cease to be in force where the person to whom it has been given becomes an Irish citizen.”
The 1996 Act contains no such provision.
Recently we have received many refusals of family reunification applications made under the 1996 Act on behalf of naturalised refugees. These applications have been refused on the basis that the naturalised individuals in question are not entitled to apply for refugee family reunification under section 18 of the 1996 Act because they are naturalised Irish citizens, and therefore no longer refugees.
We submit that these refusals are unlawful and we have commenced judicial review proceedings in the High Court challenging their legality.
While refugee status is revoked upon naturalisation under the new 2015 Act, this is not the case under the 1996 Act. Therefore, declarations of refugee status made under the 1996 Act are still valid even if the refugee becomes a naturalised Irish citizen. Their refugee status is not lost and they are still entitled to apply for refugee family reunification under the 1996 Act. This has always been the accepted practice.
The recent refusals appear to be applying the International Protection Act 2015 retrospectively. In effect these refusals are applying section 47 (9) of the 2015 Act to refugees who are declared refugees under the 1996 Act, in finding that their refugee status is revoked upon naturalisation. We submit that this is wholly contrary to the fundamental concept that law cannot have retroactive effect.
Furthermore, many of our clients in exactly the same circumstances, and whose applications were decided under exactly the same law, have been granted family reunification under the 1996 Act while they were naturalised citizens. Now many of our clients are refused family reunification because they are naturalised citizens.
We submit that the recent approach by the Family Reunification Section in now refusing to even consider family reunification applications made under the 1996 Act from naturalised refugees is clearly inconsistent with its previous practice, and it clearly unlawfully discriminates between declared refugees who are naturalised Irish citizens.
The current approach in refusing to consider family reunification applications made under section 18 of the 1996 Act by naturalised refugees reveals a worrying and fundamentally unlawful policy.