The date was 16 November 2019. A regular Saturday for most people. For the majority, there should be little significance to this date. However, little did we know, this day would be the last day before the start of a new era for us all.
The day after, the first case of Covid-19 was identified in Wuhan, China.
Reminiscing over how challenging 2020 was is often common, but how do foreigners feel, living in a different country to their own - at a time when politics is changing their basic rights and at a time when a deadly virus is spreading rapidly, restricting what they can and cannot do.
Diana Bessoa, a Portuguese citizen who travels regularly to the United Kingdom for work, expresses that living in the United Kingdom during a pandemic has been “a tricky situation” for her, as the cost of her situation has increased dramatically.
“Even though Portugal is on the green list, I have to pay £150 for the ticket prices, plus the PCR test I have to do to go to Portugal, and the PCR test I have to do to come back to the UK. Even if I had the vaccine, I would have to pay for them regardless”.
The current rules for citizens travelling to Portugal or any green list country – also apply to vaccinated individuals - consist of taking a specified Covid-19 test with proof of a negative result; booking a test two days before returning; and completion of a passenger location form.
Moreover, Louisa - who is also a Portuguese citizen, but lives in Manchester – explains that “being able to go to Portugal is a relief”, as she similarly travels to Portugal to visit family, and for business.
However, Louisa stated that the pandemic itself “has not affected me concerning myself being Portuguese, but it has like it has affected everyone else”.
Contrarily, Diana and Louisa have both expressed doubts over Britain leaving the European Union.
Louisa confesses that Brexit has affected “quite a lot” of Portuguese citizens, explaining “it has not affected me in terms of education, but it has affected me and most Portuguese in terms of travel, especially people who do not have valid documentation”.
Diana also conveys “there have been legal complications in terms of Brexit”, specifically about her job, as she “needs to go back [to Portugal] for legal representation, because we are obligated to do that”.
“There are a lot of Portuguese people who are trying to renew their documents but cannot due to these complications, and as the consulates are busy”.
These complications come from the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. An immigration system that now applies to Portuguese citizens (or any EU citizen), which restricts their freedom of movement. The system requires ex-pats who aim to move to the UK to get a visa in advance, meaning that EU citizens who apply for a skilled worker visa need to show that they have a job offer from an approved employer sponsor to be able to apply.
However, Helena Sousa e Silva - press officer for the Portuguese Embassy in London – has explained “Brexit [has] increased the demand of consular services in the United Kingdom, in particular for identity cards and passports, as these documents are indispensable to prove the identity of the applicants to the European Union Settlement Scheme”, which provides an answer to Portuguese citizens facing difficulty when renewing documents.
Helena also stated that both Brexit and Covid-19 have affected some services in the consulate due to increase in demand, but some other services have not been affected as they can be performed remotely.
Restrictions implemented by the British government due to Covid-19 have had “an unavoidable impact on the capacity to deliver these services by the Consulate General”.
“Although the offices of the Consulate General in London were never closed, and even extended working hours and more recently opened on Saturdays as well, the surge of demand and safety restrictions created a backlog and additional pressure to process identification and travel documents. The Consulate General in Manchester adopted a similar approach”.
Helena advises that “appointments for document renewal should be made well in advance of its expiry date”.
“Portuguese citizens in need of services that can only be provided by the Consulates General should contact Centro de Atendimento Consular – para o Reino Unido (CAC-RU) and request an appointment. They will have the opportunity, if necessary, to explain if their case is urgent and why”.