Easyjet CEO says ‘nothing new’ on Brexit impact on travel
Representatives of British Citizens in Portugal claim that after the Brexit deal came into force in January 2021, the Portuguese Border and Immigration Service (SEF) failed to issue the correct WA biometric cards which British nationals needed from that moment on. Britons who are scrambling to get this biometric card say they were only given a QR code and a temporary document, which has no weight as an official document.
Tig James, who leads the UK campaign group in Portugal, said British nationals who have settled in the Iberian country risk deportation or arrest when trying to cross other EU borders.
Other ripple effects reported by concerned Britons include barriers to registering a child’s birth, inability to find or change jobs and inability to access healthcare .
Ms James, who leads the UK campaign group in Portugal, said the problems had hit hardest those who were unable to obtain residency from immigration services during the pandemic, and arrived before the start of 2021, when the Brexit deal came into effect.
She said: ‘The process needed for UK nationals to register for residency took months to put in place and before that caused a lot of hardship specifically for those arriving just before the end of 2020 who were not allowed to obtain any residency documents.
British expats in Portugal have seen their lives ‘crippled and damaged’
The British said they could not cross the Portuguese border
“This meant they were unable to sign employment contracts and many were threatened with withdrawal, including five Easyjet pilots who had moved to Portugal with their families just for this purpose.
“People were not only unable to get work, but were not allowed to register for health care, social security, banks, the tax office, all known institutions in Portugal .”
She added: “Many arrested at the Portuguese borders were threatened with deportation.”
On the WA cards, replacing the temporary papers, she said: “I was promised the cards would arrive soon since July 2019 and that has been the consistent response since.
Covid-related delays also played into the misery
“The reasons for the immigration department’s three-year delay? Shortage of staff, vacation periods, pandemic and now Ukrainian refugees.
“The terrible consequences of not having a WA biometric card, the gravity of which cannot be underestimated, has crippled and damaged the lives of British nationals emotionally, physically and financially.”
She claimed that two people had been arrested in Germany due to outdated residency information, the Portuguese Border and Immigration Service having “refused to renew any residency document held by a British national saying that the QR code covers them”.
She continued: ‘No other EU country is in this situation and many border forces refuse to accept expired documents resulting in denial of entry or detention.’
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Ms James said she herself ‘cannot risk being detained’ at the border
Ms James said she herself ‘couldn’t risk being detained’ after her own residence documents were not renewed by Portuguese authorities.
She said she didn’t want to join the ranks of people who “have had their papers taken away, they’ve had them thrown to the ground because they’re just not the biometric withdrawal agreement cards that the Portuguese Border and Immigration Service fails to give us and are required to do so under the Withdrawal Agreement.
Another British national, who requested anonymity, added that there were “thousands of Britons” with partners and families who are “almost landlocked in Portugal because there is no pathway to follow”.
A spokesperson for the SEF said residence documents currently held by British nations are accepted.
The spokesperson said: “The document with the QR can be used whenever they travel, as proof of their residence in Portugal, also guaranteeing access to public health services and social security benefits.
“This document containing the QR code has been disclosed in a timely manner to the competent European authorities, guaranteeing the holders all the rights contained in the withdrawal agreement.”
A UK government spokesperson said in a statement: “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.
“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.”
Additional report by Gérard Couzens.
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