On the stroke of midnight (11pm UK time) on 31 January 2020, after 47 years of membership, the UK officially left the EU. There followed an 11 month transition period to 31 December 2020. The clock was then ticking for EU & UK citizens to register their status to ensure they kept their pre-Brexit rights. The deadline was initially 30 June 2021 but was eventually extended until the end of the year by some EU countries including Portugal.
Although not perfect, many countries’ systems (like the UK’s Settled Status) were able to register a large amount of people during the transition period. West England Bylines published several people’s stories obtaining EU nationality recently; here are my experiences applying for Portuguese residency.
But in Portugal a spanner was about to be thrown in the works. During this period anyone arriving from the UK only needed to register their status at their current town hall. All they needed to do was to bring an ID card and obtain a Portuguese Tax number.
However, since this was during the pandemic, many of the offices had shut, moved to an appointment only basis or were prematurely refusing appointments based on post-transition period rules not yet in force. In practice this proved to be very difficult, if not impossible, to arrange before the deadline. Especially to the many “late arrivers” who weren’t able to arrive in Portugal until the tail end of 2020 when border restrictions were lifted.
Luckily on 1 January 2021 a new centralised system was announced by Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF, the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service) which would not only allow those already with Portuguese pre-Brexit residency to exchange their documents but also for these “late-arrivers” to register their status if they were previously unable to do so.
Unfortunately over time it became evident that this new process was not close to being ready, despite being promised it would launch by June 2021. Nor would it clear it would be any time soon after the Portuguese government voted to restructure SEF after a series of scandals triggering a wave of strikes at the beleaguered organisation.
To date, new post-Brexit documents still haven’t been issued for the majority of British living in Portugal despite the 31 December 2021 being the EU deadline for this process to be completed. Leaving many without documentation of their status, the inability to access work, services or leave the country.
With Portugal due to enter another election period in 2022, the restructuring of SEF postponed and many organisations which had been set up to help British citizens in Portugal due to be wound down, it’s still not clear when British citizens will be able to register their status.
Ed: We’d like to hear from any Brits about their experiences trying to establish residency in other EU countries.
Ed: Based on feedback, here’s an update (30 December):
Those people who still have valid EU residency documents from when Portugal was still issuing them may not have issues. However those whose documents have started to expire whilst they wait for the new post Brexit ones have issues as do those who arrived at the end of 2020 but due to complications caused by the pandemic couldn’t secure an appointment.
The British Embassy has acknowledged the problem and says that UK Ministers have raised the issues with the relevant Portuguese authorities.