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SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT ON FAMILY REUNIFICATION FOR NATURALISED REFUGEES: M.A.M. (SOMALIA) AND K.N. (UZBEKISTAN)

Berkeley Solicitors are delighted to congratulate our client who won her appeal in the Supreme Court today in the joint test cases of – M.A.M. (Somalia) v The Minister for Justice and Equality and K.N. (Uzbekistan) and Others v The Minister for Justice. The judgement of Mr Justice McMenamin was a unanimous judgement of the Supreme Court in favour of the appellants, and was delivered on the 19th June 2020.

The judgement is very significant as it affects not just the individual families taking the appeal, but approximately fifty other applicant families who have cases pending in the High Court holding list awaiting the outcome of this Supreme Court appeal.

The case arose from a challenge to the decision of the Minister for Justice to refuse family reunification to our client’s family members under The Refugee Act of 1996 (as amended). The sole reason for the Minister’s decision was the fact that our client had become an Irish citizen by naturalisation prior to her family reunification application, and the Minister held she was not therefore entitled to the family reunification rights as a refugee.

During the course of the proceedings, the Minister accepted that the Department of Justice had previously interpreted Section 18 of the 1996 Refugee Act to permit naturalised refugees to apply for family reunification for their family members, and this favourable scheme was in operation between 2010 and October 2017. The Minister also accepted that in October 2017, following new legal advices, the Minister commenced a new procedure to preclude naturalised refugees from applying for family reunification. This change in policy resulted in many naturalised refugees being refused family reunification during the period of 2017 and 2018, prior to the commencement of the family reunification provisions of the International Protection Act 2015.

The Minister argued that in order for a person to have rights to family reunification under Section 18 of the 1996 Act, not only must they hold a declaration confirming their refugee status, but they must also be a refugee in line with the definition of a refugee in Section 2 of the Act. As this definition requires a person to be outside their “country of nationality” to be a refugee, the Minister’s argument was that a refugee who becomes naturalised is no longer deemed to be a refugee as they are not outside their country of nationality, when that country becomes Ireland.

The Supreme Court disregarded this argument, holding that there was nothing to suggest in the Act that the appellants’ “country of nationality” had altered from Somalia and Uzbekistan to Ireland, as their well-founded fear of persecution remained  in those countries and not Ireland.

The Supreme Court carried out a detailed statutory interpretation exercise in respect of the 1996 Refugee Act, and highlighted the absurdities that would follow if a refugee with a declaration of refugee status would also have to be “deemed” to be a refugee in order to avail of the important rights of family reunification.

The court stated:

“The consequence of the interpretation urged by the Minister would be to create substantial legislative uncertainty when the purpose of the 1996 Act was to achieve clarity. The case advanced would run counter to the legislative aim of the Oireachtas, which was, by a carefully devised procedure defined in the Act, to identify one definitive “mark” of recognition to persons who were entitled to refugee status in this State, which, in turn, would grant them benefits and entitlements.”

In conclusion, the Supreme Court held as follows:

“This judgement concludes that the fact that the appellants became citizens did not deprive them of the right to apply for family reunification under s.18 of the 1996 Act.”

This is a very welcome decision from the Supreme Court, because it gives certainty to the definition of a refugee and the interpretation of the family reunification provisions in the 1996 Refugee Act.

In effect it means that all the decisions issued by the Minister during the period of 2017 and 2018 to refuse applications for family reunification under the 1996 Act because the sponsors were refugees who had naturalised as Irish citizens, were unlawful.

It also means that the decisions granting family reunification to naturalised refugees during the 2010 to 2017 period are lawful, bringing legal certainty to the status of countless families now settled in Ireland.

We would expect that Minister will now agree to withdraw these previous unlawful decisions refusing family reunification, and reconsider and re determine the applications in line with the Supreme Court’s judgement.

We welcome the clarity that this judgement brings and look forward to working with our clients to have the unlawful family reunification decisions withdrawn and re determined.

The full judgement can be read here.

We are happy to advise further to anyone believes they are affected by this judgement.

Berkeley Solicitors

HIGH COURT DECISION ON 12 MONTH TIME LIMIT FOR REFUGEE FAMILY REUNIFICATION

On 29th October 2019,    Mr Justice Humphreys delivered his judgement in I.I (Nigeria) v Minister for Justice and Equality in relation to the 12-month time limit to apply for Family Reunification under Section 56(8) of the International Protection Act 2015. The high court judge found in favour of the State.

The case concerned an Applicant who, in October 2011, was left in the care of her maternal Aunt. The Child and Family Agency acted on the Applicant’s behalf at material times thereafter. The Applicant was subsequently granted refugee status on 25th September 2014 and applied for family reunification in respect of her mother, in July 2018. This was refused on 3rd December 2018.

The Applicant sought review of the refusal and a declaration that the 2015 International Protection Act is contrary to the Constitution, ECHR and EU law.

The Applicant argued they were unable to make a family reunification application in the four years previous as the whereabouts of her mother was unknown.

The judge held that the genuine inability of the Applicant’s Aunt or Child and Family Agency to contact the Applicant’s mother or family members within the statutory time limit of 12 months, from date refugee status was granted, for applications for family reunification was not satisfied.

The judgement highlighted that no application had been made under the non-EEA policy document nor had visas for the Applicant’s family been made- something which Judge Humphreys suggested might have achieved family reunification.

The Applicant argued that she carried the right to apply under s. 18(3) of the Refugee Act 1996 without any time limit and this right was carried forward beyond the repeal of the Refugee Act 1996 act in 2015.

Mr Justice Humphrey’s vehemently opposed this argument, stating that such an interpretation:

Para 13. “would deprive the concept of repeal of much of its meaning, creating intolerable uncertainty and giving the Refugee Act 1996 a ghostly after-life such that years or even decades after its repeal, it could violently jerk back into life without warning at the whim of an applicant such as this one.”

The judgement also highlighted that an application for family reunification could have been made within the time limit, on the basis that efforts and inquiries were being made to contact the relatives.

Notably, the court held that an alternative remedy could have been made under the non-statutory Policy Document on Non-EEA Family Reunification 2015 or by applying for visas. [para 21]

Mr Humphrey’s opined that:

Para 23. “as there is a separate procedure which could potentially achieve the family reunification for the applicant’s relatives, particularly if the age of an applicant is a factor to be taken into account in that process. It would be an improvident use of the power to strike down legislation to embark on consideration of a challenge to that legislation where the applicant has not even applied under that separate procedure, let alone been refused.”

Mr Humphrey’s continued in Paragraph 25 affirming:

 “it is not a breach of any particular constitutional right to have a twelve-month time limit for family reunification or even to have a time limit that legal guardians must exercise on behalf of a person who is a minor at the time… The mere fact that a person has been admitted into the State for some purpose including international protection does not create a constitutional obligation on the State to admit any or all family members… does not generate a free-standing constitutional right on the part of others to enter the State which they did not otherwise possess. It is worth noting that… family reunification is encouraged by interested agencies but is not a legal obligation. Even if there is such a right, a generous twelve-month time limit is not disproportionate and thus no breach of substantive rights arises, and is well within the margin of appreciation of the Oireachtas.”

In this regard, Mr Justice Humphrey’s found that the window to apply for family reunification was not availed of and therefore dismissed the application.

The judgement places a significant obstacle against family reunification for refugees, and has an adverse impact on many people.

We understand this judgement is to be appealed to the Court of Appeal, and we will continue to post updates on the developments of this important appeal.

The full judgement can be read in full here

SUPREME COURT TO HEAR APPEAL ON A DECISION CONCERNING THE DEFINITION OF “CHILD” IN FAMILY REUNIFICATION LAW

The Supreme Court is set to hear an appeal from the State over the definition of “child” as referred to in the International Protection Act 2015.

Section 56 the 2015 International Protection Act sets down the procedure for refugees and the holders of subsidiary protection to make an application for family reunification.

The State’s appeal specifically concerns Section 56.9(d) which provides as follows:

“(9) In this section… “member of a family” means in relation to the sponsor-

(d) a child of the sponsor who, on the date of the application under subsection 1 is under the age of 18 years and is not married.”

In 2018, Mr Justice Barrett ruled that non-biological or adopted children are eligible for family reunification. Delivered in May, the High Court decision involved ‘Mr X’ who held subsidiary protection in Ireland and subsequently applied for family reunification for a 14-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl to whom he was the sole guardian of.

After refusing to undertake a DNA test, as requested by the Minister, the application was refused in 2017. Mr X made a second application which was also refused and therefore brought judicial review proceedings with the aim of quashing the Minister’s refusal.

In his decision, Mr Justice Barrett acknowledged that “there is a “wide diversity” of familial structures and the 2015 Act does not exclude non-biological relationships. He further found that a “cookie cutter” definition of children which only recognised biological children, “would doubtless be easier for the State to police…but it is not what the Act provides”. Mr Justice Barrett’s decision acknowledged that it is not always a straightforward task in defining who is a child of someone. He therefore directed the Minister for reconsideration of the matter.

Chief Justice Frank Clarke, Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley and Ms Justice Mary Irvine have accepted a “leapfrog” appeal by the Minister and State against the High Court decision. This means that the State’s appeal will bypass the Court of Appeal and be directly heard by the Supreme Court.

The judges have emphasised that the definition of “child” in relation to the 2015 Act has the potential to relate to any case regarding non-biological minors who are claimed to be the child of person who has international protection.

The question as to which minors may benefit from family reunification is “a matter of general public importance”, they have underscored.

A hearing date for the appeal has not yet been fixed.

 

IMPORTANT HIGH COURT RULING DEEMS REFUSAL OF FAMILY REUNIFICATION TO SPOUSES/CIVIL PARTNERS OF REFUGEES/SUBSIDIARY PROTECTION HOLDERS UNCONSTITUTIONAL

The recent High Court judgment of Mr Justice Barrett in the joined cases of A. vs The Minister for Justice and Equality and S. and S. vs. The Minister for Justice and Equality has held as unconstitutional the statutory provision excluding family reunification rights to the spouses and civil partners of refugees whose marriage took place after the granting of refugee status.

This is a very favorable development for the holders of refugee status or subsidiary protection who wish to apply for family reunification for their spouse/civil partner but who were not married at the time that they made their application for protection in the State.

These joined cases raised the question, as to whether s. 56(9)(a) of the International Protection Act 2015 is unconstitutional and/or incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights.

The context of this judgements is that previously, under the Refugee Act 1996, now repealed, refugees were  eligible for family reunification with their spouse whether or not they had been married at the time at which they made their application for protection in the State.

Under the more recent International Protection Act 2015, section 56(9)(a) and (b) provides that holders of refugee status and subsidiary protection are only eligible for family reunification with their spouse where their marriage took place prior to the date of their application for protection in the State.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Barrett declared that Section 56(9)(a) is “repugnant to the provisions of the Constitution” and is therefore “invalid and does not have the force of law.”

The Court found that there was no objective and reasonable justification in this context for a differentiation in treatment between couples married pre-flight to those married post-flight, referring to the European Court of Human Rights case Hode and Abdi v. UK, in which that Court had objected to differentiation in treatment on the basis of the time of marriage.

The Judge went on to state that although it was no longer necessary as the section had already been declared unconstitutional, the court would also have declared that Section 56(9)(a) is incompatible with the State’s obligation under Article 14 ECHR read together with Article 8 ECHR, the latter protecting the rights to family and private life.

The Court in this ruling has notably departed from the judgment of RC or VB v. The Minister for Justice [2019] IEHC 55, which dealt with a similar question.

This judgment has significant implications for refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection who have applied for their spouse or civil partner to be granted family reunification and who have been refused on the basis that their marriage took place after they made their application for protection in the State.

The judgement also opens to the door for refugees who failed to submit an application for family reunification for their spouse or civil partner under the 2015 Act, on the basis that they believed they were not eligible under Section 56 (9) (a).

If you believe this may affect you please contact the office with your questions and we will seek to assist you in the next steps.

 

UPDATE ON CHANGES TO IMMIGRATION RULES FOR FAMILY MEMBERS OF CRITICAL SKILLS EMPLOYMENT PERMIT HOLDERS

The new Pre -Clearance Procedure for family members of CSEP (critical skills employment permit) holders has commenced.

The recently welcomed policy change for the spouses and de facto partners of CSEP holders has been followed by another very encouraging update of a new Pre-clearance Scheme which was officially launched on April 1st 2019.

This Pre-clearance Scheme essentially allows for the spouses and de facto partners of CSEP holders to confirm their permission to enter the State in advance of arrival.

Prior to the launch of this Pre-clearance Scheme the spouses and de facto partners of CSEP holders who were also non-visa required nationals, did not have access to a procedure that would allow them to confirm their permission of entry to the State prior to arrival.

This may have been a cause for concern of a non-visa required spouse or partner, such that they must anticipate the possibility of refusal of permission to reside following their arrival to the State.

In addition, the maximum time frame of an approved visit entry is a 90-day period which is a seemingly unrealistic time-frame for many to successfully apply for and regularise their immigration status, particularly when taking into consideration the current waiting times for decisions.

The new Preclearance Scheme requires both visa exempt and visa required nationals who are the spouse or de facto partners of CSEP holders to ‘pre clear’ their entry before arriving in the State.

This scheme ultimately affords the spouse or partner much more certainty in their plans and concrete confirmation of their permissions to enter the State prior to their time of travel.  It allows the holders of pre clearance approval to enter the State and simply present for registration on Stamp 1G permission without the need to make any further application.

Furthermore, in following the previous update regarding the removal of the need to obtain a separate work permit for these family members of CSEP holders, this essentially allows the spouse or partner to acquire an almost instant access to the labour market upon arriving in Ireland- following their registration.

It should be noted that the rules for visa requirements in Ireland (outside of the aforementioned category of newcomers) still do not distinguish between short and long-term stays.  At present there is still no pre clearance procedure for non-visa required nationals outside of this new scheme.

This means that for foreign nationals who are non-visa required, the process of applying for permission to reside and/or work in the State can be an uncertain and understandably difficult experience.  Persons are required to come to the State, request entry at the border and if permitted entry make an application from inside the State. This usually results in a person becoming undocumented and being restricted from the labour force until their application is determined. It also comes with the risk that the application could be ultimately refused.

The unknowing and uncertain prospects for these applicants are wholly unsatisfactory and can ultimately become the cause of significant consequences for the applicant and the State.

We feel it could be in the best interests of all parties to further extend the pre clearance procedure in respect of non-visa required nationals, who are applying to reside in Ireland with their family.

 

FAMILY REUNIFICATION FOR NATURALIZED REFUGEES

On the 26th February 2018, Mr Justice Humphries delivered his judgement in the three test cases concerning the Minister of Justice and Equality’s recent decisions to refuse family reunification to naturalized refugees.

The cases were chosen to represent a larger number of cases currently in the High Court, all challenging the Minister of Justice and Equality’s recent decisions to refuse family reunification to naturalized refugees. These decisions were issued by the Minister contrast to the former policy to accept that naturalized refugees continued to have the rights to family reunification pursuant to the 1996 Refugee Act. An internal policy change implemented by the Minister, without notice to the applicants, resulted in the refusal of a large number of applications in circumstances where they would have previously been granted family reunification.

The Minister argued that a refugee ceases to be a refugee on acquiring Irish citizenship pursuant the definition of a refugee in national and international law, and a formal statutory provision for the revocation of their refugee status is not required.

The applicants argued that a formal withdrawal or cessation of refugee status is required by statutory provision, and while this is implemented in the International Protection Act 2015, it was not implemented under the Refugee Act 1996 as amended.

Mr Justice Humphries found in favour of the State, indicating that the cessation of refugee status is declaratory in nature, and refugees who become naturalized automatically cease to be a refugee, thus losing their refugee rights to family reunification.

The High Court decision is now the subject of an appeal to the Court of Appeal. We will post further updates on this case when there are any developments in the Court of Appeal.

Berkeley Solicitors