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What we focus on

Brexit has brought issues related to citizenship, immigration, and movement of people across this island to the fore. Anti-immigrant rhetoric, rapid changes to UK immigration law, and the imposition of the Hostile Environment by the UK government dangerously stokes racism and leads to wholesale abuse of human rights. In response, CAJ established our Immigration Project to promote a welcoming and human rights compliant immigration regime in Northern Ireland. The project focus is on expert legal research and advocacy, which is utilised to impact policy and practice, and to inform strategic interventions, including litigation where appropriate. The project does not undertake direct client work, instead focusing on providing guidance, training, and support to organisations working directly with the migrant community. The project has built strong relationships with a wide network of NGOS, charities, law enforcement agencies, and legal and political bodies across both the UK and Ireland.

EU Citizens’ rights

When Brexit started to become a reality, CAJ foresaw that the changes would have a particular impact on EU citizens and their family members. Brexit creates classes of citizenship with differing rights and has exposed EU citizens and their family members to the Hostile Environment. We have worked on access to the Frontier Workers permit scheme and the European Union Settlement Scheme (EUSS) within Northern Ireland. We are also working to expose the current post-Brexit reality in which EU citizens are being wrongly denied access to rights and entitlements.

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The Common Travel Area

Freedom of movement within the Common Travel Area (CTA) applies across the UK and Ireland, but it has a unique importance on the island of Ireland. The CTA is intrinsically linked with preventing a hard border and protecting the peace process. It has also been essential in supporting non-British and non-Irish people living on the island of Ireland to live cross-border lives. Post Brexit, the CTA is also frequently referred to as the source of ‘reciprocal rights’ for British and Irish citizens. Including the right to reside and work in the alternate state without immigration permission. This rhetoric risks limiting the CTA to British and Irish citizens – excluding the rights of others.

We have worked on racial profiling and the conducting of unlawful immigration checks within the CTA; post-Brexit changes to CTA policy; and the imposition of Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) on the land border through the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. We also work jointly with North West Migrants Forum on their campaign on the impact of the CTA on migrant and minority ethnic people. This campaign highlights how many people residing legally on the island of Ireland are excluded from freedom of movement within the CTA, and develops legislative and policy asks to modernise and reform the CTA to include everyone in our communities.

The Common Travel Area (CTA) is a long-standing administrative arrangement between the UK, the Republic of Ireland, and the Crown Dependencies. It is not dependent on British or Irish membership of the EU. The UK and Irish governments reaffirmed their commitment to the CTA with a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in May 2019.

Hostile Environment policies

Another key area of the Immigration Project’s work is to push back against the imposition of Hostile Environment measures in Northern Ireland. The Hostile Environment expressly aims to make the lives of individuals with an irregular immigration status unbearable through a suite of measures that place duties on public services and private actors to police immigration status. The policies – only some of which have to date been applied in NI – have already led to shocking practices of racial discrimination, most notoriously typified by the Windrush Scandal. Nonetheless, the policies are largely intact and, following Brexit, apply to an even broader range of people. In Northern Ireland, the Hostile Environment sits uncomfortably alongside devolved powers and the commitment to equality and human rights enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. With Brexit, the application of Hostile Environment policies in Northern Ireland has raised unique concerns, most notably that NI will become ‘one big border’, increasing discrimination and human rights abuses within our communities.

CAJ has analysed where devolved powers can be used to mitigate the harmful effects of Hostile Environment policies. We have commissioned and published a legal opinion specifically on this topic. This report identifies many areas where NI institutions can act within their devolved competencies to push back against the Hostile Environment and protect migrant rights in Northern Ireland.  We also recently collaborated with frontline organisations to gather evidence of the lived experience of migrants, which has led to the development of a comprehensive research report. This report sets out legislative and policy asks that advocate for a welcoming and human rights compliant immigration regime in Northern Ireland.

The Protocol

The Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol was negotiated between the EU and UK as part of the Withdrawal Agreement. One of the objectives of the Protocol is to avoid a hard border. Under Article 3(1), the UK and Ireland “may continue to make arrangements between themselves relating to the movement of persons between their territories” – i.e. within the CTA. A qualification is added that these arrangements must be compatible with people’s EU rights – which includes free movement into the Irish State. Notably, this provision on the movement of people is not qualified to mean only British and Irish citizens.

Additionally, Article 2 of the Protocol provides for ‘no diminution’ of certain Good Friday Agreement (GFA) rights as a result of Brexit. This includes rights related to equality of opportunity in all socioeconomic activity on protected grounds, including ethnicity; and the right to ‘choose your residence’. Authoritative commentary highlights that right-holders in this section of the GFA are not limited to NI citizens, or limited to those resident in Northern Ireland, but also include members of the migrant community and those resident in the Republic of Ireland.

CAJ’s Immigration Project has worked to promote the protection of migrant rights through the NI Protocol, including highlighting potential breaches of Article 2 and Article 3 in relation to post-Brexit changes to the immigration regime and to the CTA.