After the UK referendum vote to leave the EU nearly three years ago on 23 rd June 2016, the exit date had been fixed for 29 th March 2019 under Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union. Since then the deadline has been extended with the agreement of the EU
member states to grant a flexible extension of the Article 50 until 31 st October 2019. In
addition, on 31 st December transition period is due to end.
The UK Government published 2020 is the its Brexit White Paper explaining all
proposals for the future relationship between the UK and the EU and lays out five key areas
on which to focus including the economy, communities, the union, democracy and the UK’s
place in the world.
On 21 st February 2019 the Portuguese Ministers Council published the Draft Brexit
Law Proposal, designed to address the legal vacuum which would be created if the United
Kingdom left the European Union with no deal. Just over a month later, on 28 th March 2019, the Brexit Law number 327-A/2019 was approved. This Law has focussed on residency rights and the preservation of them.
Between the publication of the draft law and the final law some changes have
manifested themselves, specifically in relation to the exemption from the requirements and
supporting documents required for residency permits, which stipulate the rules applicable to third country nationals (Law no.23/200). This exemption was specifically mentioned in the draft law and applied to all British citizens as well as their family members. However the
new law states that the exemption only applies to British citizens and their family members
who have obtained a temporary residency permit and wish to renew it or who wish to obtain a permanent residency permit within 5 years of the date they established their residency in Portugal.
The good news for British citizens is that the interpretation given by the Portuguese
Government and the Portuguese Immigration Authorities (SEF) indicates that current
residency documents remain valid until the end of 2020 after which that United Kingdom
nationals will be issued with new documents by SEF. In addition, they will be exempt from
complying with third-country requirements when they renew their residence documents,
even if they do so after 2020.
Other practical issues include health care, and Portugal will not suspend the access
to healthcare, even if the UK does not create a similar regime for the Portuguese citizens
residing in the UK. Therefore residents will continue to have uninterrupted access to the
State healthcare system (SNS) and visitors, up to the transition period due date, will also
have access by showing their valid passport (even if they do not have insurance they will
only pay normal user fees and later UK will be invoiced with treatment charges). On other
hand, UK nationals living in Portugal up to the date of leaving the EU will have until 31 st
December 2020 to exchange their UK driving licence for a Portuguese one.
Lisbon, 5th June 2019
By Geoffrey Graham, Senior Partner at EDGE International Lawyers
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