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Portugal’s SEF and Consular network ill-prepared for ‘hard-Brexit’

Published on 30/01/2019

On the 17th of January, the Portuguese Government submitted its ‘Preparation and Contingency Plan for the Departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union,’ a document that aimed to evaluate the impact of Brexit in Portugal on citizens’ lives and economic activity.

The plan also lists preparations and measures to be taken at EU and national level but points out that a lack of human resources at the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) and at the consular network in the UK will restrict progress.

Late in the day, the plan calls for more staff and technological resources for the SEF and the British consular network, to facilitate entry and exit processes at national borders.

The consular service will have few additional resources in place, especially if the UK leaves without a deal, the so-called ‘hard Brexit,’despite promises from the Secretary of State for Portuguese Communities, José Luís Carneiro.

Acácio Pereira, president of the Union covering the SEF, already has stated that the plan will be hard to implement without additional staff in place as the service already is undermanned.

There also is a lack of staff in Portuguese consulates in the UK, with many people complaining of delays, unanswered calls, unanswered emails, no scheduling of online sessions to renew identification documents, as well as long waiting periods for appointments – up to three months is becoming the norm.

One of the new plan’s features is the setting up of a special Brexit Line to issue information but with 309,000 Portuguese nationals in the UK 302,000 of them registered in the consular services, this may be of little practical help.

The Secretariat of the Portuguese Communities states that 23,206 Portuguese will have to renew their passports before the end of 2020; another 40,000 will have to do so the following year and 63,000 Portuguese in the United Kingdom will have to renew their Citizen’s Card within the next two years.

As for British in Portugal, they remain reliant on the Consular service information posted on the web and social media, newspapers and websites written in English, the ‘foreigners in Portugal’ association, afpop and the occasional cheery statement from government representatives that post Brexit, it will be ‘business as usual.’