For Some non-EU Citizens, a Breakup Can Mean a Carefully Constructed Life Is Upended

When Edgar Gomez split with his long-term partner, he wasn’t thinking about his immigration status, he says. “It never crossed my mind.”

In October 2016, his girlfriend had travelled to London for an internship, Gomez said on a Zoom call last week. Three months later, she broke up with him.

“She never came back,” Gomez says, resting his hand on his forehead.

At that point, Gomez and his partner had lived together for more than five years, he says, and Gomez had settled well into life here in Ireland, building, at the time, a career at the tech company Hewlett Packard (HP).

The break-up had put all that at risk.

Under EU law – which trickles down to domestic laws – EU citizens can move around Europe and bring family with them, including someone they’re in a long-term relationship with.

But while spouses and civil partners have the right to stay in their new countries if the relationship with the EU partner falls apart, other long-term partners don’t.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said it’s open to ex-partners to make a case for themselves, and the department reviews each case based on its unique circumstances.

“If a decision is made not to make a removal order, an alternative immigration permission under domestic law may be provided,” the spokesperson said.

Left Aside

When the time came for Gomez to renew his status, it dawned on him that he needed his partner for it, he says.

He texted his ex, Gomez says. But it can be difficult for EU citizens to empathise with immigration problems, he says.

“Maybe she wasn’t aware that my life is going to be completely…,” he says, then pauses.

“Messed up, you know,” says Gomez, finally.

Gomez didn’t want to leave, he says. He had built a career from scratch and worried about going back to El Salvador and going backwards. “I’ve been working here from the start,” said Gomez.

He emailed the Department of Justice to say that his partner had left him.

The department can be inefficient by email, he says. “But that email, they replied immediately, like the week after, with a revocation letter.”

Eoghan McMahon, a solicitor at the law firm McGrath McGrane, says that excluding de-facto partners from the entitlement to retain status especially impacts queer people from countries that outlaw homosexuality, or where same-sex marriage is culturally a taboo.

“Just because you can get married here doesn’t mean it won’t have an effect on your status in your country of origin,” McMahon says.

He says the state could create a separate immigration stamp, governed by domestic law, for those who were in long-term relationships that failed.

The Department of Justice doesn’t have figures for how many revocation letters or removal orders it has issued for people formerly in long-term relationships, a spokesperson said.

At Their Mercy

Even if Gomez had been married or in a registered civil partnership, he might still have lost the right to stay because his partner had left Ireland.

Jie Lin moved here in May 2006 on a student visa. In June 2011, he and his Latvian boyfriend entered into a civil partnership, and Lin upgraded his student permission.

The relationship broke down around 2014. The two went their separate ways, but it wasn’t until 2017 that their civil union was legally untangled.

When Lin applied to avail of his right to remain even outside of the relationship, the Department of Justice turned him down.

He hadn’t been living in the country legally, they said in the refusal letter. Lin’s partner had moved away even before they officially broke up, which isn’t allowed under the rules, the letter says.

Lin says he hadn’t read the law, so he hadn’t realised this.

“I didn’t want anything to do with him whatsoever, you know, nothing, I didn’t care what he was doing,” said Lin last week, sitting outside Love Supreme café in Stoneybatter, smoking a cigarette.

He was facing eviction around the time of the break-up, which took all his attention, he says. “The landlord wanted the house back. It was very stressful.”

Lin doesn’t want to leave Ireland. He’s been here too long, he says. “Fit in here better than in China.”

Now, though, he is undocumented. He had lived on temporary permissions while the Department of Justice was reviewing his case – which also means he’snot eligible for the amnesty scheme for undocumented people.

McMahon, the solicitor, says the law can put a non-EEA partner at the mercy of their ex, dependent on them staying in the country as the separation is formalised and any ruling on new permission comes through.

“Even though married couples have this extra protection of right to retain, it can be difficult, especially in Ireland where you have to be separated for two years to get a divorce,” he says.

“If your partner leaves the state before that, theoretically, you don’t have any permission,” McMahon says.

He says this might work in countries where people can break up today and divorce tomorrow, but in Ireland, things don’t work that way.

“You’re absolutely reliant on the good faith, and the goodwill of your ex-partner to kind of cooperate with you, so you can access your retention rights,” says McMahon.

That’s unrealistic, he says, especially if the relationship ended badly or if an ex-partner was abusive.

McMahon says that the 2004 European law is outdated and needs a makeover to include these nuances.

What Now?

Gomez fought to stay in the country for a little short of six years. Last month, his lawyer won him a discretionary renewable stamp 4 permission.

Volunteers at Crosscare Migrant Project, a non-profit in the city, helped Lin apply for humanitarian permission to stay. But the Minister for Justice rejected that.

In the refusal letter, the Department of Justice points out that he can join the queue of applications considered under the Chenchooliah route.

Lin doesn’t know what it means. It’s tough to navigate the process without a solicitor, he says.

McMahon says permissions granted based on the Chenchooliah ruling can be temporary.

“So, the next step in these cases is for the minister to make a decision about whether to deport them or not,” says McMahon.

“In Chenchooliah, what happened was that they had been using the ordinary deportation process in section 3 of the Immigration Act,” he says.

But removal orders made under European law need to have better protections than the Immigration Act, says McMahon.

Until the Department of Justice comes up with a new internal process in line with European law for these cases, people can stay, he says. Then, they’ll be either deported under the new arrangement or the minister might let them stay.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said it looks at people’s age, health, the amount of time they’d spent in Ireland, and their economic circumstances, among other things, when assessing whether to grant discretionary statuses.

Lin, who’s lived in Ireland for nearly 16 years, says he’s just tired. He buries his face in his hands. “Sometimes I think I should just go back home,” he says.

[CORRECTION: This article was updated at 8.38am to correct that the European law that Eoghan McMahon says needs to be updated is from 2004 not 2014. Apologies for the error.]

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Shamim Malekmian: Shamim Malekmian covers the immigration beat for Dublin Inquirer. Reach her at [email protected]

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