Delay in issuing post-Brexit ID cards puts Portugal's border agency under spotlight

FILE PHOTO: Gates, passport control and toilets signs are seen at Lisbon's airport, Portugal. June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante//File Photo

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's border agency SEF has faced criticism for delays in issuing post-Brexit ID cards to thousands of British nationals in the country, putting the spotlight on a structural problem that has affected various other migrant communities for years.

Nearly 35,000 British nationals called Portugal their home in 2019, the year before Britain left the European Union (EU), and, as part of the withdrawal agreement, their rights were to be safeguarded.

They were told by SEF to exchange their EU residence permits for biometric ID cards, but the vast majority have not received those cards and were only given a temporary document and a QR code, which campaign groups claim are not widely recognised.

Tig James, co-president of British in Portugal, said without the card people have struggled to access healthcare, exchange their driving licence, get jobs and some have even been threatened with refusal of entry into Portugal because other EU nations do not accept the temporary document.

James said SEF officials have cited staff shortages, holiday periods, COVID-19 and the arrival of Ukrainian refugees to justify the three-year delay.

"The seriousness (of not having the card)... cannot be underestimated, it has paralysed and damaged UK nationals... emotionally, physically and financially," James said.

In a statement SEF said the temporary document and the QR code guaranteed access to health and social services and would be accepted until the card was issued. It said other European countries were aware of it.

The issuing of the cards started in February on the islands of Azores and Madeira, where fewer than 1,500 British people live, and SEF said it would start the process in the seaside municipality of Cascais, near Lisbon, this month.

SEF did not reply to a question on how many cards have been issued so far.

For years the SEF has been accused of being too slow and inefficient, with the organisation Diaspora, which mostly supports migrants from Brazil and the African continent, saying on average people wait two to three years to get an appointment.

Helena Schmitz, from Diaspora, said the waiting time brought "insecurity and instability" to migrants' lives, who often have to work precarious jobs and fear filing discrimination complaints due to lack of ID documents.

"It is much deeper than simply not having a residence permit," Schmitz told Reuters, adding that "privileged groups" often have more access to SEF because they can pay for lawyers to take care of the process.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Inti Landauro and Alex Richardson)

Article type: free
User access status:
Subscribe now to our Premium Plan for an ad-free and unlimited reading experience!

Next In World

Factbox-Where have Russians been fleeing to since mobilisation began?
Democrat-led Texas city steps up migrant busing to New York, outpacing Republican effort
Thai attacker was in court on drugs charge just before mass shooting - police
Syrian TV says rare U.S. raid in government-held zone kills one
The case of the vanishing deposit: US woman defrauded in catfishing check scam that reveals vulnerability of bank accounts
Russian missile strike kills woman, destroys apartment block in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia
Date turns violent when man is stabbed by woman he met on dating app, US cops say
Virtual climate reality: Can ‘digital twins’ help protect us from disasters?
Ex-cop kills 22 children, 12 others in Thailand daycare mass shooting
Amid high US inflation, online insurance offers mislead elderly

Others Also Read