Portugal fails to issue post-Brexit ID cards

Almost 35,000 Brits in limbo due to SEF failure

SEF, which has failed to issue ID Cards

The Guardian reports today that British nationals living in Portugal are currently unable to access healthcare, change jobs or travel in and out of the country without the latest biometric ID cards. Under the Brexit deal, British citizens in Portugal were guaranteed their social and employment rights would be protected. 

Portuguese ministers have not issued them with post-Brexit residency cards, it has emerged. The UK government has raised the issue at the ministerial level and urged Portugal to implement fully the withdrawal agreement and protect the rights of the 34,500 Britons who made the country their home before Brexit.

People have been left detained at airports, paying to have broken bones treated or risked losing their jobs due to the delays in getting a biometric card that is vital to everyday life and proves their legal status.

Under the UK-EU withdrawal agreement, British citizens in Portugal were guaranteed their social and employment rights would be protected. However, the Portuguese government has yet to provide the necessary biometric residency cards. Instead, a temporary document and QR code has been issued, which Britons say is not recognised locally or at international borders.

James Campbell, a computer programmer, said: “I am feeling more like an illegal immigrant at the moment.” He listed 25 things that had happened to him because of the lack of documentation, including a £4,000 private hospital bill for a broken limb because he could not access state healthcare.

A British-South-African couple living just outside Lisbon told how they were detained in Frankfurt airport without correct post-Brexit residency documentation, and are now being accused of criminal breach of immigration laws as well as a near €4,000 (£3,375) bill for new flights to get back to Portugal.

The husband, who did not wish to be named due to ongoing legal action, said: “We were in transit and when we were going to the gate for the Seychelles we were taken aside and asked for our residency documents. We were told what we had was not sufficient. We offered to show them utility bills, tax bills, to prove we were residents in Portugal, but he would not listen. His only concern was that ‘you are illegally in Germany’. He kept on saying it doesn’t matter what the Portuguese government tell you.”

He said it was “almost criminal” what had happened to him and his wife, adding that individuals should not have to resort to the media to fix a government-created problem. He was told he risked being arrested if they returned via Germany so they had to forgo their original tickets and buy new flights to Lisbon via London.

“SEF is wilfully, deliberately and systemically not adhering to the withdrawal agreement”

Tig James, who runs the British in Portugal campaign group, said an estimated 41,000 British nationals were affected by not having ID cards and she has spent the past three years “screaming from the rooftops” about the problem – but nobody has heeded her. She blames the Portuguese immigration and borders service, SEF.

“SEF is wilfully, deliberately and systemically not adhering to the withdrawal agreement, resulting in the physical, emotional and financial suffering of thousands of UK nationals living in Portugal,” she said.

James has compiled a six-page report chronicling the impact of the situation facing British nationals in Portugal and had been planning to present it in person to the European Commission in September, but says she will not go because of fears she will be detained at the border.

The UK government said it had raised the matter at the ministerial level and through its embassy in Portugal on a number of occasions. It also raised it formally in June at the UK-EU specialised committee on citizens’ rights, the body tasked with ensuring implementation of the agreement.

“We continue to urge the Portuguese government to complete the process of issuing biometric residency ID cards to UK nationals living legally in Portugal without further delay,” a UK government spokesperson said in a statement. “Portugal must immediately and fully implement the withdrawal agreement commitments it signed up to in 2018 so UK nationals have the security they need.”

Alex Braithwaite, an easyJet pilot based in Portugal, said he risked losing his job due to not having the latest ID card and had to get help from the British embassy to prove he had the right to work locally for the airline. He has also been unable to register at his local GP or change his German driving licence for a local one.

Others say they have not experienced any problems with the temporary documentation. Jeffrey Frankel, a retiree, says he has had no issue with healthcare, and public bodies have accepted the receipt extending his ID card. He has had a heart operation under the Portuguese health system locally, been in and out of the country with no issues and had his driving licence renewed.

Current documents continue to be accepted

SEF said in a statement: “The current residence documents of British nationals living in Portugal continue to be accepted, even after the end of the transition period (31 December 2020), and until the new residency ID card is issued.

“The exchange of the current residence document (either an EU registration certificate issued by the town hall, or an EU permanent residence certificate issued by SEF) was carried out through the Brexit portal (brexit.sef.pt), which allowed British nationals to apply online to exchange the document.

“Until then, the certificate with the QR code, that can be downloaded from the portal, continues to be an official residency document for those under the withdrawal agreement. It is valid until the new ID card is issued. Furthermore, valid EU residency documents continue to be accepted for travel purposes, until the new card is issued.”

A European Commission official said it had been assured by Portugal that the delay in issuing physical residency ID cards does not have any “structural implications” for British nationals or their right to access social and health services.

The official said it continued to monitor the situation. It had also been informed that new laws had been to expand the number of state bodies allowed to issue those cards.

ID card situation in Madeira

The above comes directly from the Guardian, and whilst it may accurately describe the situation on the mainland, it is not 100% correct when applied to Madeira – coincidentally I have had occasion to be updated with the latest situation here within the last ten days:

  • New SEF appointments for the biometric card: these are still not being issued, and no timescale is being given for this to recommence. Appointments, with invitations by e-mail, will resume at some point presumably. Having been offered one in the past that you have been unable to attend through being out of the country counts for nothing.
  • Travel documents: the (SEF) officials at the airport in Madeira accept the “old” residency permits with the QR code. I have had occasion to talk to more than one recently and they understand that SEF are not giving appointments and are largely sympathetic to those without the new ID card.
  • Access to health care: the details on the old-style health documents need to be updated every three months by visiting your local Centro de Saude. After that residents will be treated in the normal manner. Presumably the biometric ID card overrides this requirement?

COVID-19 in Madeira: updates can be found in an earlier post

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7 thoughts on “Portugal fails to issue post-Brexit ID cards”

  1. Congratulations to the Admin for finding this so quickly.

    I was in fact trying to find the address of the Admin to give him the Guardian URL for this story when I saw there was no need – it was already there.

    (Somewhat amazed given the time today of the Guardian article)

    • I do think however that if you want a foreign government to do anything, the use of ”must” isn’t very useful.

      (Refers to ” Portugal must immediately and fully implement the withdrawal agreement commitments it signed up to in 2018 so UK nationals have the security they need.”)

      It reminds me of Foreign Minister Truss ”telling” the French government to provide more staff at Dover. Hopefully the Portuguese government are not as quick to take offense at UK attempts to boss them around.

    • My husband found this and told me about it, so I used the “contact” page (tab “contact” above) in case Admin hadn’t picked it up, but they got back to me to say that they had, so yes, quick action. Actually for some unknown reason I got an error message when I tried to send the form, so left a comment, instead, which Admin picked up a couple of hours later. Very impressive.

      Totally agree with your comment about use of the word “must” etc. Use such language with the French and they are likely to do the opposite, which, I have to say, would be my inclination, faced with such an attitude!

  2. It seems that the issue rests with other European countries as opposed to Portugal

    For example, the right to remain in the UK applies to the UK and cannot be used in Australia
    So, it stands to reason that any residency applies only in the country issuing that residency does it not?

    SEF seems to have fulfilled its obligations by issuing documentation protecting the residency rights of British citizens
    The “Citizens id Card” with contains data for many services can only be used by Portuguese Citizens

    The logical course of action would therefore mean applying for Portuguese citizenship if your personal situation allows it
    You can then travel throughout Europe unimpeded without issue while still holding your British Citizenship

    Do correct me if I have misunderstood

    • Everywhere in the EU they are going to be using this new biometric system for all their residents, including their own citizens or foreign born people residing in their country, so everyone resident is obliged to have this. From my understanding Portugal is the only country not to have completed this for their British residents. Probably only just a matter of (long) time as they’ve had a lot of ‘issues’ in the department this year, shall we say, rather than it being a sign that they aren’t going to do it. Shame for those that have been affected though thats for sure.


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