If it fails an agreement with the European Union on Brexit, the British government should guarantee the rights of European residents, including the Portuguese, believes Portugal’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Manuel Lobo Antunes.
“If there is no agreement, then I am certain that the UK will fulfill its obligations and guarantee the rights of European citizens, including the Portuguese,” he said.
In September, following an informal meeting in Salzburg, Austria, Prime Minister Theresa May reported on a stalemate in the negotiations and the hypothesis that an agreement could not be reached but ensured that she respected the rights of Europeans.
“Even if there is no agreement, your rights will be protected, you are our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues, we want you to stay,” May said on September 21.
Manuel Lobo Antunes said that this statement “reinforced what he had said on other occasions and what other members of the government said,” said the diplomat.
It has been in this sense that there have been “strong contacts” in a “positive spirit” with the British Home Office to prepare the new registration system for resident status, which is expected to be operational by 30 March 2019.
Intended to replace the current process involving completing a form with dozens of pages and sending numerous documents, the system will be entirely electronic and will cross information in the official databases of the tax and social security authority.
Resident status will be assigned to those with five consecutive years of living in the United Kingdom, while those who have been in the country for less than five years will have a pre-settled status until they complete the necessary time.
With the transition period being the preliminary agreement of December 2017, which foresees a transitional period until the end of 2020, the free movement of European citizens will continue until the end of 2020 and the resident status can be requested until June 30, 2021.
But without agreement, the rules that will apply to citizens wishing to settle in the UK after the ‘Brexit’ date on 29 March 2019 are unclear, and this uncertainty will be contributing to fewer Europeans, including Portuguese, are registering to work in the United Kingdom, the Portuguese ambassador admitted.
In the 12 months between June 2017 and June 2018, 19,332 Portuguese were enrolled in Social Security, 28% less than the 26,905 Portuguese who registered between June 2016 and June 2017.
“People do not know what the new immigration system will be. For those who come in a post-‘Brexit ‘situation, it will be under the new conditions,” said Manuel Lobo Antunes.
This new situation may lead one to think, the ambassador admitted, that “there may not be so many opportunities, given that Europeans will have the same rights as all other immigrants and that work and residence permits will depend on professional qualifications.”