Campaigner and Brit expat Tig James said British citizens who made Portugal their home before Brexit now face deportation and arrest if they try to enter another EU country.
Thousands of British expats in Portugal are having their lives ‘crippled and damaged’ because the country has failed to issue them post-Brexit residency cards, it has been claimed.
Tig James, who runs the Britain in Portugal campaign group, says many British nationals who made areas such as the Algarve their home before the withdrawal agreement came into force face deportation and arrest when trying to enter another EU country.
They are also suffering ‘horrendous consequences’ in Portugal – including not being able to register for health care, difficulties in registering a child’s birth and obstacles when it comes to family reunification.
Expat representatives say the problems stemmed from the failure of the Portuguese Border and Immigration Service to issue the WA biometric cards required of every British citizen under the EU-UK withdrawal agreement.
So far only temporary documents and QR codes have been issued in mainland Portugal which said affected Britons are not recognized at local or international borders.
Mrs James, who claimed the problem had a serious impact on those who arrived before the Brexit deal at the start of 2021 and were unable to obtain residency from the Immigration Office due to the pandemic, said: ‘The process required to register UK citizens. Residency took months to apply and caused many difficulties before then, especially for those arriving before the end of 2020 who were not allowed to obtain any residency documents.
Migrants in Portugal (photo by James) face ‘horrendous consequences’ and no healthcare, she said.
‘This meant that they were unable to sign employment contracts which threatened to withdraw them, in particular, the five EasyJet pilots who had traveled to Portugal with their families for this purpose.
‘Not only were people unable to find work, they were not allowed to register with health services, social security, banks, tax offices, all known institutions in Portugal.
‘Many of those stopped at the Portuguese border were threatened with deportation.
‘Eventually they were allowed to register for residency and a system was put in place where a QR code was issued stating that everyone was legally resident in Portugal but not the WA biometric card required by every UK citizen coming under the return agreement.
‘From July 2019 onwards I have been promised that the cards will arrive soon and that has been the unchanging answer since.
‘The reason for the three-year delay by the immigration department? Staff shortages, vacation periods, pandemics, and now Ukrainian refugees.
‘The dire consequences of not having a WA biometric card, the seriousness of which cannot be understated, has crippled and damaged the lives of British citizens emotionally, physically and financially.
‘Without one you can’t register for healthcare if you move address (seriously ill, potentially ill, unable to treat), doctors refuse treatment, appointments are cancelled.
‘It has repeatedly been advocated that British citizens exchange their driving licenses for Portuguese licenses to be fully covered by the law.
‘A British citizen submitted her application seven times due to missing documents and the Driving License Office refusing to accept any application without a WA Biometric Card.
The Tax Office refuses to change addresses without it so people are sent to the wrong address if they’ve moved if they’re a UK citizen with a driving licence.
‘Banks refuse to change addresses without the tax office – so credit and debit cards are sent to the wrong address, vehicles are unable to be registered British citizens should be free to import thousands in import duty for vehicles, and garages. They are refusing to repair the vehicle.
Brits abroad in Portugal face unprecedented paperwork due to Brexit (pictured)
‘People given QR codes are not accepted at many EU borders and those with such codes are often refused entry, detained or threatened with deportation.
‘Recently two people were detained in Germany due to old residency documents.
‘Portugal Borders and Immigration Services have refused to renew any residency documents held by British nationals saying they are covered by QR codes.
‘No other EU country is in this situation and many border forces refuse to accept expired documents resulting in refusal of entry or detention.
‘Two people from Germany had to buy other return tickets because they were told they were not allowed to return from Germany at a cost of around £4,200.
‘Now that they have done everything legally and as they were told they have to hire an immigration lawyer in Germany they are waiting to see if they have a court date in Germany.’
He added: ‘Portuguese institutions or businesses are refusing to deal with or provide services to UK nationals.
‘Portugal’s Social Security Office has suspended family allowance payments until a WA biometric card can be produced and the birth of a child can be registered.
‘The WA Biometric Card is only acceptable for companies taking on new employees, UK citizens who either cannot find employment or move jobs or, if they are employed but unable to register for health care and are ill, obtain sick note cover. duration of their illness.
Tourist and expat hotspot Tavira in the Algarve, which many Brits call home, is featured.
‘EU employers, outside of Portugal, are demanding WA biometric cards to sign contracts and rejecting QR codes for pre-Brexit residency paperwork with UK nationals.
‘Under the family reunification rules, British nationals wishing to bring a third-country national couple to Portugal will not be allowed to do so unless they have a biometric card. One couple has been waiting to live together for three years and another two-and-a-half years before they could start the process.’
A pilot scheme to provide British expatriates with their long-awaited biometric cards, known as WABC’s, started in the Azores and Madeira in February this year but nothing has yet been done in mainland Portugal, where experts reckon there are around 60,000 British nationals living in Portugal. 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 moving abroad with her husband: ‘We knew about the deadline and wanted to get here earlier. Make sure we do all our paperwork and don’t leave everything to the last minute.
‘After flying to Amsterdam in June I was stopped and told that my visa had expired when I tried to enter Holland.
‘The border control officer looked at these documents which he had apparently never seen before and decided that they were not valid, in fact they were just applications for residence.
‘To make a long and horrible story as short as possible, he sent me back to Portugal.
‘He told me that everyone in the UK has a residency card. I told him Portugal wasn’t around to release them and he kind of laughed and said he was talking and I’d listen and he ended up listening.’
He added: ‘I don’t go to the local clinic where there are great doctors and nice people. I showed them my QR code and they said: ‘You’re not a resident, you have to pay’
Tig James said: ‘Nicola’s case is not an isolated one.
In 2021 alone, around 50,000 Brits moved to live in Portugal (Algarve pictured).
‘I know people living in Portugal and still trying to work in the Schengen area.
‘I know people who have been stopped by border guards in every European country.
‘They have taken out their documents, they have thrown them on the floor because they are not just return agreement biometric cards that the Portuguese Border and Immigration Service is failing to give us and directed under the return agreement. Do that.’
She said, ‘My own residence expired last year. The Portuguese Border and Immigration Service SEF does not renew expired residency documents, so if I travel outside Portugal I will show the expired documents to border control.
‘I can’t risk being detained.’
One British national, who asked not to be named, said: ‘There are thousands of British people with spouses and children in Portugal because there is no way forward.’
A SEF spokesman said current residence documents of British nationals living in Portugal were still being accepted.
Despite the problems British citizens say they are experiencing with temporary documents and QR codes issued to them, he said: ‘A document with a QR can be used when they travel, as proof of their residence in Portugal, also guaranteeing access. Public health care and social security benefits.
‘This document containing the QR code was disclosed to the relevant European authorities in time, ensuring the holders all the rights contained in the withdrawal agreement.’
A UK government spokesman said in a statement: ‘We continue to urge the Portuguese government to complete the process of issuing biometric residency cards to British nationals legally resident in Portugal without further delay.
‘Portugal must immediately and fully implement the withdrawal agreement commitments it signed in 2018 so that British citizens have the protection they need.’