By Yang Peng

 

Relationships in real life are not always stable; there are always ups and downs. Likewise, when applying for a visa, applicants often face challenges in proving the genuineness and enduring nature of their relationships. Consequently, accidental omissions and minor errors may occur in the complex visa application procedure.

 

During the visa application, the Home Office will carefully review the truthfulness of the documents. If any concealed or false information about the application is found, it may have a negative impact on the application and even lead to visa revocation or deprivation of citizenship. It is therefore imperative that you prioritise honesty and accuracy throughout the process.

 

A recent case highlighted the importance of this. On 28th September 2023, The Court of Appeal made a significant decision in an immigration appeal concerning the deprivation of citizenship in which a concealment of a material face was obtained.

 

The Court of Appeal, Civil Division, dismissed the appellant’s appeal from a decision of the Upper Tribunal. It held that the decision of the respondent, the Secretary of State for the Home Department in the appellant’s deprivation of citizenship was correct. It announced that the Home Office could withdraw a person’s citizenship if an applicant conceals essential information regarding their relationship when applying for settlement with their partner.

 

Background of the case

 

Mr A is a Pakistani national and married a Pakistani national, Ms S, before he came to the UK. He arrived in the UK in 2006 and then started a relationship with a Polish national Ms L.

 

Mr A received a divorce deed sent to him by his Pakistani wife, Ms S, in 2008. He then applied for further leave to remain in the UK in 2009 as the extended family member of an EEA national, Ms L. This was based on their durable relationship of two years’ cohabitation. Due to his divorce from his previous marriage and his new relationship with Ms L, Mr A was subsequently granted his further leave to remain and settled in the UK. After completing the five-year qualifying period with the EEA national in 2015, Mr A separated from Ms L in 2016 and applied for British citizenship in 2018.

 

Once Mr A was granted British Citizenship in 2018, he applied for entry clearance for Ms S and their four children to join him in the UK. In this application, he signed the statutory declaration to the effect that the information that he had given was complete and true to the best of his knowledge but made no reference to his relationship with the Polish partner Ms L, or to the Pakistani divorce deed.

 

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (hereafter ‘SSHD’) informed Mr A that there was information confirming that he had obtained his status in the UK as a result of a bigamous marriage. The SSHD ultimately took a decision to deprive Mr A of his citizenship on the basis that Mr A had continued a relationship with Ms S during his relationship with Ms L despite the fact that he was still married to Ms S and that the Pakistani divorce certificate was false.

 

The First-Tier Tribunal (hereafter ‘FTT’) heard Mr Ahmed’s appeal from the SSHD’s decision, and the appeal was dismissed in 2020. Mr A then appealed to Upper Tribunal against the decision of the FTT. The Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) (UT) found that the decision of the FTT had been wrong in law. The judge concluded that the SSHD had prima facie evidence of fraud. Mr A appealed further.

 

Ahmed v Secretary of State for the Home Department

 

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This case mainly discussed that whether the Upper Tribunal made errors in fact and law in finding the SSHD was entitled to deprive Mr A of his British citizenship. There were three main issues that had a significant impact on confirming the key facts in this case. The third issue is particularly valuable as it as it can be referred to for dishonest concealment in immigration application cases:

 

1. Whether the judge misapplied the country guidance to interfere with the finding of facts

2. If the judge was wrong to find that Mr A’s EEA applications would have been refused if continuing relationship with Ms S disclosed

3. Whether the judge was wrong to find dishonest concealment.

 

The court found that there were important inconsistencies in the evidence of Mr A’s witness statements and his relationship with Ms L. The court discerned that there was no basis for interfering with the finding of facts because of the use of the country guidance case law. As a result of these facts, there was also no basis on which to conclude that the judge had made any error.

 

Furthermore, Mr A’s continuing relationship with Ms S, their marriage and their children, were highly relevant to the case, and undermined the prospect of Mr A’s relationship with Ms L being “durable”. If this information about Mr A’s continuing relationship with Ms S had been disclosed, the SSHD would have refused the EEA application.

 

For the third issue about the dishonest concealment, the court held that:

 

  • Although FTT did not expressly say that the concealment was dishonest, FTT had directed that the Secretary of State had to establish that Mr A had obtained citizenship by means of fraud, false representation or concealment of a material fact.
  • Since the Mr A’s credibility had been damaged because of inconsistencies in his evidence, and there had been a plan “all along” to conceal his true relationship with his wife. The divorce deed should be brought into existence in furtherance of a lie. As a result, this was a concealment of a material fact for the purposes of section 40(3) of the 1981 Act.
  • In these circumstances, it is plain that the judge’s findings of fact amounted to a finding of dishonesty on the part of Mr A, so that there was a dishonest concealment of a material fact. The judge was entitled to reach these conclusions and made no significant legal mistakes.

 

The above is a summation of the court’s verdict concerning presented grounds.

 

Why did the appeal against deprivation of citizenship fail?

 

In spouse visa applications which are based on a relationship, it is crucial to establish that the previous relationship has permanently broken down. In Mr A’s initial application, there was an overlap between his two-year cohabitation with Ms L and his previous marriage with Mrs S. Additionally, the birth of his child revealed that he was in a continuous relationship with Mrs S during the five-year relationship with Mrs L.

 

Upon the comprehensive review of Mr. A’s relationship history and the evidence he provided, the court raised substantial doubts about the credibility of Mr. A’s evidence. The court also determined the existence of dishonest concealment and recognized that the divorce agreement should be considered as existence in furtherance of lie. Consequently, the court substantiated the presence of fraud, false representation, and concealment of a material fact within Mr. A’s immigration application. Mr. A’s appeal against deprivation of citizenship was therefore dismissed.

 

Our comments

 

The findings in Ahmed v SSHD highlight the importance of ensuring applications are true. The judgment provides guidance on the grounds of the identification for dishonest concealment as well as the deprivation of British citizenship.

 

This case underscores that any kind of fraud, false representation, or concealment of a material fact in the application could lead to the failure of the application or deprivation of granted immigration status. This could be the case even if you’ve already been granted citizenship. For applicants wishing to apply for a spouse visa or other visas based on a relationship, it’s important to make sure that there is no overlap between the two relationships. Mr A’s situation is a clear reminder that it is important to be honest when submitting an application to avoid legal issues and preserve one’s immigration status.

 

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