British nationals living in Portugal cannot access healthcare, change jobs or travel in and out of the country because its ministers have not issued them post-Brexit residence cards, a we learned.
The UK government has raised the issue at ministerial level and urged Portugal to fully implement the Withdrawal Agreement and protect the rights of the 34,500 Britons who took up residence in the country before Brexit.
People have been held up at airports, paying for treatment or risking losing their jobs due to delays in obtaining a biometric card essential for daily life and proving their legal status.
Under the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement, British citizens in Portugal were guaranteed that their social and employment rights would be protected. However, the Portuguese government has not yet provided the biometric residence cards. Instead, a temporary document and QR code have been issued, which Brits say is not recognized locally or at international borders.
James Campbell, a computer programmer, said: “I feel more like an illegal immigrant right now.” He listed 25 things that had happened to him due to the lack of documentation, including a £4,000 private hospital bill for a broken limb because he could not access public healthcare.
A British-South African couple living just outside Lisbon have told how they were detained at Frankfurt airport without correct EU residency papers, and are now charged with criminal breach of immigration laws as well than a bill of nearly €4,000 (£3,375) for new flights back to Portugal.
The husband, who did not wish to be named due to ongoing legal action, said: “We were in transit and when we got to the Seychelles gate we were pulled aside and we asked us for our residence documents. We were told that what we had was not enough. We offered to show them utility bills, tax bills, to prove we were residing in Portugal, but he wouldn’t listen. His only concern was that “you are illegally in Germany”. He kept saying that it didn’t matter what the Portuguese government told 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 problem created by the government. He was told 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.
Tig James, who leads the UK campaign group in Portugal, said around 41,000 British nationals were affected and she has spent the past three years ‘shouting from the rooftops’ about the problem – but no one is telling her. listened. She blames the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service, SEF.
“SEF is willfully, willfully and systematically failing to comply with the Withdrawal Agreement, resulting in physical, emotional and financial suffering for thousands of British nationals living in Portugal,” she said.
James has compiled a six-page report detailing the impact of the situation for British nationals in Portugal and had planned to present it in person to the European Commission in September, but says she will not go for fear of being detained at the border.
The UK government said it raised the issue at ministerial level and through its embassy in Portugal on several occasions. He also raised it officially in June during the specialized UK-EU Committee on Citizens’ Rights, the body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the agreement.
“We continue to urge the Portuguese government to complete the process of issuing biometric residence cards to UK nationals legally living in Portugal without further delay,” a UK government spokesperson said in a statement. “Portugal must immediately and fully implement the commitments of the Withdrawal Agreement it signed in 2018 so that British nationals have the security they need.”
Alex Braithwaite, an easyJet pilot based in Portugal, said he risked losing his job for lack of papers and needed to get help from the British Embassy to prove he had the right to work locally for the airline. He was also unable to register with his local GP or change his German driving license to a local one.
SEF said in a statement: “Current residence documents for UK nationals living in Portugal continue to be accepted, even after the end of the transition period (December 31, 2020) and until the issuance of the new residence permit. stay.
“The exchange of the current residence permit (either an EU registration certificate issued by the town hall or an EU permanent residence certificate issued by SEF) was carried out via 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, downloadable from the portal, continues to be an official residence permit for people under a withdrawal agreement. It is valid until the issue of the new card. In addition, valid EU residence documents continue to be accepted for travel purposes, until the new card is issued.
A European Commission official said Portugal had assured him that the delay in issuing physical residence cards had no “structural implications” for British nationals or their right to access health and social services.
The official said he continues to monitor the situation. He was also informed that new laws aim to increase the number of public bodies authorized to issue these cards.