dealing with domestic abuse as a foreign national

Karen Connolly

30 April 2015

Domestic Violence is unfortunately still very much a prevalent issue in today’s society. Reports indicate that incidents of domestic abuse have largely increased year on year since 2004.

Whilst research shows that domestic violence is most commonly experienced by women and perpetrated by men, domestic violence is by no means selective – it can affect anyone regardless of sex, race, ethnic or religious group.

Over the last decade, we have seen our local communities become much more cosmopolitan with the increase in immigration to Northern Ireland.  Many foreign nationals are moving to Northern Ireland to join spouses or partners, or to work or study here. 

Foreign nationals living in Northern Ireland who experience domestic violence at the hands of spouses, partners or family members are particularly vulnerable in our society.  Many have very limited English, or no English at all and many may feel isolated and unsure of their rights against such abuse.  

Those who have insecure immigration status or no immigration status may be frightened to report the abuse to the police or authorities for fear of being removed from Northern Ireland.  Many victims may also be financially dependant on their abuser and unaware as to whether they would be entitled to any financial assistance should they leave.

A person living in the UK as the spouse of a British citizen or the spouse of someone settled in the UK who has been the victim of domestic violence, may be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK under the UK Immigration Rules - that is, permission to stay in the UK permanently in their own right.

Many victims of domestic abuse may alternatively have insecure or temporary immigration status in the UK - for example, those living here as workers or students, or the family members of workers or students.  In these circumstances, whilst they are not eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain under the UK Immigration Rules, victims of domestic abuse may be able to apply for financial support from their local Social Services Trust.

Many foreign nationals may still be subject to immigration control or have no immigration status in the UK at all.  In these circumstances, foreign nationals cannot apply for most state benefits at least until their immigration status is resolved.  This is called having 'no recourse to public funds'.  This may make a victim particularly reluctant to leave an abusive relationship for fear of how they will survive financially should they do so.  In many cases Social Services may be able to assist financially whilst immigration matters are resolved.

Whatever their immigration status, victims of domestic abuse have a right to protection from the police. They also have the right to apply for Orders for protection against their abuser and will be entitled to legal aid to bring their application to Court.

At Francs Hanna & Co, we have solicitors highly experienced in both Family Law and Immigration Law who will be able to guide and assist foreign national victims of domestic abuse with the utmost confidence. Interpreters can be arranged for those with limited or no English.

For further information or for a free, no obligation discussion, please contact Karen Connolly at kconnolly@fhanna.co.uk or Claire Edgar at cedgar@fhanna.co.uk.  Alternatively, you can call our office on 028 9024 3901 or contact us online using the contact us form.