All British and Irish citizens born in Northern Ireland will be be treated as EU citizens for the purposes of immigration, the government in London announced on Thursday.
The UK's Home Office announced the move in a statement outlining changes in immigration rules in the House of Commons in Westminster on Thursday. The statement came following a landmark court case involving a Northern Irish woman and the residency rights of her US-born husband.
Emma de Souza's application for a residence card for her US-born husband was rejected, and she took her case to court. In 2015 the Home Office rejected her application on the grounds that she was British, despite her having never held a British passport.
The rule changes also mean that family members of British or dual British-Irish citizens from Northern Ireland will be able to apply for status under the EU Settlement Scheme."
The Good Friday Agreement, which was signed in 1998, allows people born in Northern Ireland to identify as British or Irish, or both. But until last week's court decision, the UK government had insisted that those born in Northern Ireland remained British under the law, even if they had identified as Irish.
The Guardian newspaper pointed out the development "means that British citizens in Northern Ireland will automatically have more rights than their counterparts in England, Wales and Scotland, who will still have to spend thousands of pounds going through the strict immigration route for non-EU or non-EEA spouses with no guarantee of success."
On Thursday, the government in Westminster said British or dual British-Irish citizens in Northern Ireland would be able to apply for EU status through the EU settlement scheme, introduced following Brexit earlier this year.
In a statement it said: "The rule changes also mean that family members of British or dual British-Irish citizens from Northern Ireland will be able to apply for status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
"This delivers on the commitment the UK government made in the ‘New Decade, New Approach' agreement in January 2020 which restored the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland," the statement added.