Almost 35,000 Britons in limbo as Portugal fails to issue post-Brexit ID cards | Brexit

Written by Javed Iqbal

British citizens living in Portugal are unable to access healthcare, change jobs or travel in and out of the country because its ministers have not issued them with post-Brexit residence cards, it has emerged.

The British government has raised the issue at ministerial level, calling on Portugal to fully implement the withdrawal agreement and protect the rights of the 34,500 Britons who made the country their home before Brexit.

People have been detained at airports, pay to have broken bones treated or risk losing their jobs because of the delays in getting a biometric card that is essential for everyday life and proves their legal status.

Below Withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU, British nationals in Portugal were assured that their social and employment rights would be protected. However, the Portuguese government has not yet issued the biometric residence cards. Instead, a temporary document and QR code has been issued, which the British say is not recognized locally or at international borders.

James Campbell, a computer programmer, said, “I feel more like an illegal immigrant at the moment.” He listed 25 things that had happened to him because of the lack of documentation, including a £4,000 private hospital bill for a broken limb because he could not access state healthcare.

A British-South African couple who live just outside Lisbon have told how they were detained at Frankfurt airport without proper EU residency documentation and are now being charged with criminally breaching immigration law, as well as a bill of almost €4,000 (£3,375) for new plane to get back to Portugal.

The husband, who did not want to be named due to ongoing legal proceedings, said: “We were in transit and when we were going to the gate to Seychelles we were taken aside and asked for our residency documents. We were told what we had , was not sufficient. We offered to show them utility bills, tax bills, to prove we were resident in Portugal, but he wouldn’t listen. His only concern was that ‘you are in Germany illegally’. He kept say it doesn’t matter what the Portuguese government tells you.

He said it was “almost criminal” what had happened to him and his wife, adding that individuals should not have to resort to the media to solve a government-created problem. He was told that he risked arrest if they returned via Germany, so they had to give up their original tickets and buy new flights to Lisbon via London.

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Tig James, who heads the UK campaign group in Portugal, said an estimated 41,000 British nationals were affected and she has spent the past three years “screaming from the rooftops” about the issue – but no one has listened to her. She blames the Portuguese Immigration and Border Service, SEF.

“SEF is knowingly, deliberately and systemically failing to comply with the Withdrawal Agreement, resulting in the physical, emotional and financial suffering of thousands of UK nationals living in Portugal,” she said.

James has drawn up a six-page report detailing the impact of the situation British nationals face in Portugal and had planned to present it in person to the European Commission in September, but says she will not go because fear that she will be detained at the border.

Tig James, who runs British in Portugal
Tig James, who runs British in Portugal Photo: Included

The British government said it had raised the matter at ministerial level and through its embassy in Portugal on a number of occasions. It also raised it formally in June in the UK-EU specialized committee on citizens’ rights, the body tasked with ensuring the implementation of the agreement.

“We continue to call on the Portuguese government to complete the process of issuing biometric residence cards to British nationals living legally in Portugal without further delay,” a UK government spokesman said in a statement. “Portugal must immediately and fully implement the Withdrawal Agreement commitments it signed in 2018 so that British citizens have the security they need.”

Easyjet pilot Alex Braithwaite
Alex Braithwaite has risked losing his job as an easyJet pilot. Photo: Alex Braithwaite

Alex Braithwaite, an easyJet pilot based in Portugal, said he was at risk of losing his job because he did not have documentation and had to get help from the British Embassy to prove he had the right to work locally for the airline. He has also not been able to register with his local doctor or change his German driving license to a local one.

The SEF said in a statement: “The current residence documents of UK nationals living in Portugal will continue to be accepted even after the end of the transition period (31 December 2020) and until the new residence card is issued.

“The exchange of the current residence document (either an EU registration certificate issued by City Hall or a permanent EU residence certificate issued by SEF) was carried out through the Brexit portal (brexit.sef.pt), which allowed UK nationals to apply online to exchange the document.

“Until then, the certificate with the QR code that can be downloaded from the portal remains an official residence document for those under the withdrawal agreement. It is valid until the new card is issued. In addition, valid EU residence documents for travel purposes are accepted until the new card issued.”

A European Commission official said it had been assured by Portugal that the delay in issuing physical residence cards has no “structural consequences” for British nationals or their right to access social and health services.

The official said it was continuing to monitor the situation. It had also been informed that new laws had been to expand the number of government bodies authorized to issue these cards.

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Javed Iqbal

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