Portugal welcomes Brits - with or without a Brexit deal

portugalPortugal’s government on Friday laid out proposals to protect rights of British citizens living in the country if there’s a no-deal Brexit but made clear it expects similar treatment for the around 300,000 Portuguese living in Britain, write Paul Ames, in Politico.

“We are deciding these things unilaterally and we expect the United Kingdom to respond in the same way,” said Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva, announcing contingency plans to be applied if Britain crashes out of the European Union without a deal.

The plans aim to minimize disruption for British citizens living in Portugal and the millions who visit as tourists, said Santos Silva and Interior Minister Eduardo Cabrita.

“The British are welcome in Portugal as residents, as tourists, as investors, as students. We hope they will continue to come and stay in Portugal,” Cabrita said.

In 2017, 22,431 Brits were registered as permanent residents in Portugal, according to data from the immigration service. However, British Embassy officials estimate the real number living in the country at around 45,000.

The Portuguese government and the embassy are running awareness campaigns to get Brits to register before Brexit day on March 29.

“In case of a no-deal scenario … the guarantee to acquire the right of permanent residence would only apply to UK nationals who are resident in Portugal before 29 March,” says a new government pamphlet.

The official number of resident Brits rose 15 percent in 2017, suggesting many are heeding the advice. Cabrita said extra immigration officers are being sent to facilitate registration in the southern Algarve coast, Madeira island and other areas popular with Brits.

Cabrita said the around 3 million British tourists arriving each year in Portugal would not be subjected to visa restrictions even if there is no Brexit deal. Efforts will be made to minimize hold-ups at airports once the British are no longer EU citizens.

Beyond residency and travel rights, the ministers expressed hope that migrants in both countries would be able to maintain unfettered access to public health systems and social security rights, and that academic qualifications would remain recognized.

British Prime Minister Theresa May laid out similar assurances for EU citizens living in Britain in a no-deal policy paper released in December, but not yet formally adopted.

Despite Brexit, Britain remains the most popular destination for Portuguese leaving their country, with 23,000 heading there in 2017, although that represents a fall of 26 percent on the previous year.

The government is due to present further plans on the economic impact of a no-deal next week. However, Santos Silva said he was still hopeful of a change of heart by British lawmakers that would lead to approval of the agreement May struck with EU leaders for an orderly Brexit.

“We don’t want to put this contingency plan into action,” he told reporters. “We hope the agreement comes into force and all this work becomes useless.”

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