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Campaigner and Brit expat Tig James said UK nationals who made Portugal their home before Brexit now face deportation and arrest when they try to enter another EU country
Thousands of British expats in Portugal are having their lives ‘paralysed and damaged’ because of the country’s failure to issue them with post-Brexit residency cards, it has been claimed.
Tig James, who runs the British in Portugal campaign group, says many UK nationals who made areas such as the Algarve their home before the withdrawal agreement came into force are facing deportation and arrest when they try to enter another EU country.
They are also suffering ‘dreadful consequences’ in Portugal – including being unable to register for health care, difficulties registering a child’s birth and obstacles when it comes to family reunification.
Expat representatives say the problems are being caused by the Portuguese Border and Immigration Service’s failure to issue WA biometric cards needed by every UK national under the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement.
So far on mainland Portugal only a temporary document and QR code has been issued which affected Britons say is not recognised locally or at international borders.
Mrs James, who claims the problem has severely affected those who arrived before the Brexit agreement kicked in at the start of 2021 and were unable to obtain residency from immigration offices due to the pandemic, said: ‘The process needed for UK nationals to register for residency took months to be put in place and, prior to that, caused a great deal of difficulties specifically for those arriving just before the end of 2020 who were not allowed to obtain any residency documentation.
Expats in Portugal (photo by James) face ‘dreadful consequences’ and no healthcare, she said
‘This meant they were unable to sign work contracts with many being threatened with retraction of them including, most notably, five Easyjet pilots who had moved to Portugal with their families solely for that purpose.
‘People were not only unable to obtain work but were not permitted to register for health care, social security, at banks, the tax office, every known institution in Portugal.
‘Many stopped at Portuguese borders were being threatened with deportation.
‘Finally they were allowed to register for residency and a system put in place where a QR code was given stating that all were legally resident in Portugal but it wasn’t the WA biometric card needed by every UK national coming under the withdrawal agreement.
‘I have been promised the cards would be arriving soon since July 2019 and that has been the unvarying reply since.
‘The reasons for the three year delay by the immigration department? Staff shortages, holiday periods, the pandemic, and now Ukrainian refugees.
‘The dreadful consequences of not having a WA biometric card, the seriousness of which cannot be underestimated, has paralysed and damaged UK national’s lives emotionally, physically and financially.
‘Without one you can’t register for health care if you move address (people seriously ill, potentially terminally ill, cannot get treatment), doctors refusing treatment, appointments cancelled.
‘Repeatedly it has been advocated UK nationals exchange their driving licence for Portuguese licences to be fully covered by the law.
‘One UK national has submitted her application seven times due to loss of documentation, and the driving licence office refusing to take any applications without the WA biometric card.
The tax office refuse to change addresses without one so even if a UK national gets a driving licence it gets sent to the wrong address if people have moved.
‘Banks refuse to change addresses without the tax office say-so, so credit and debit cards are sent to the wrong address, vehicles are unable to be matriculated costing UK nationals thousands in importation fees for vehicles that should be free to import, and garages are refusing to repair vehicles.
Brits abroad in Portugal face unprecedented paperwork in the wake of Brexit (Faro pictured)
‘The QR code people have been given is not being accepted at many EU borders with the holders of such codes often being threatened with refusal of entry into the country, detained or deported.
‘Two people were recently detained in Germany because of out of date residency documentation.
‘The Portuguese Border and Immigration Service have refused to renew any residency documentation held by a UK national saying the QR code covers them.
‘No other EU country is in this situation and many border forces refuse to accept expired documents resulting in refusal of entry or detention.
‘The two people in Germany had to purchase other return tickets as they were told they were not allowed to return through Germany costing them approximately POUNDS 4,200.
‘They are now waiting to see if and when they have a court date in Germany having had to employ a German immigration lawyer when they have done everything legally and as they were told to do.’
She added: ‘Portuguese institutions or businesses are simply refusing to deal with UK nationals or provide a service.
‘The Portuguese social security office has ceased family allowance payments until a WA biometric card can be produced and the birth of a child cannot be registered.
‘Only a WA biometric card is acceptable for companies taking on new employees, the ramifications being UK nationals cannot either gain employment or move jobs or, if they are employed but unable to register for health care and are then ill, obtain a sick note covering their period of sickness.
Tourist and expat hotspot Tavira in the Algarve, which numerous Brits call home, is pictured
‘EU employers, outside of Portugal, are demanding a WA biometric card in order for contracts to be signed and are refusing the QR code together with the pre-Brexit residency paperwork UK nationals have.
‘UK nationals wishing to bring their third country national spouses to Portugal under the family reunification rules are not being allowed to do so until they have the biometric cards. One couple have been waiting three years to be together and another two and a half without even being able to start the process.’
A pilot scheme to provide British expats with their long-awaited biometric cards, known as WABC’s, began in the Azores and Madeira in February of this year but nothing has yet been done on mainland Portugal and experts reckon around 60,000 UK nationals living in Portugal are still waiting for them.
Nicola Franks, a British resident in Portugal, told Portuguese TV channel SIC of her problems when she flew to Amsterdam in June three years after her move abroad with her husband: ‘We knew of the deadline and wanted to get here well in advance and make sure we had all our paperwork done and didn’t leave everything till the last minute.
‘In June I was stopped after flying to Amsterdam and told as I tried to enter Holland I had overstayed my visa.
‘The border control official looked at these papers he had obviously never seen before and decided they were not legitimate, that in fact they were only applications for residency.
‘To make a long and frightening story as short as possible, he turned me back to Portugal.
‘He told me everyone in the UK has a residency card. I told him Portugal has not got around to issuing them and he kind of laughed and said he was talking and I should be listening and that was the end of his listening.’
She added: ‘I don’t go to the local clinic which has great doctors and good people. I showed my QR code to them and they said: ‘You’re not a resident, you need to pay’
Tig James said: ‘Nicola’s case is not an isolated one.
In 2021 alone, nearly 50,000 Brits moved to Portugal to assume residency (Algarve pictured)
‘I know of people who are resident in Portugal and are still trying to work within the Schengen area.
‘I know of people who have been stopped by border guards in every single European country.
‘They’ve had their papers taken off them, they’ve had them thrown to the floor because they are simply not the withdrawal agreement biometric cards that the Portuguese Border and Immigration Service are failing to give us and are directed under the withdrawal agreement to do so.’
She said: ‘My own residency expired last year. The Portuguese Border and Immigration Service SEF will not renew expired residency documents, hence if I travel outside Portugal I’m going to be showing border controls expired documents.
‘I cannot take the risk of being detained.’
One British national who asked not to be named said: ‘There are thousands of British people with husbands and wives and children who are almost landlocked in Portugal because there is no way forward.’
An SEF spokesman said the current residence documents of British citizens living in Portugal continue to be accepted.
Despite the problems British nationals say they are experiencing with the temporary documents and QR codes they have been issued with, he said: ‘The document with the QR can be used whenever they travel, as proof of their residence in Portugal, guaranteeing also access to public health services and social security benefits.
‘This document containing the QR code was disclosed in a timely way to the relevant European authorities, assuring 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 residency cards to UK nationals living legally in Portugal without further delay.
‘Portugal must immediately and fully implement the withdrawal agreement commitments it signed up to in 2018 so UK nationals have the security they need.’