Goan Retreat

Brexit just wrecked the career plans of thousands of Goans

Free movement within the EU allowed residents of Portugal's former colony to work in Britain.

On a day when the United Kingdom voted to exit the European Union, the Portuguese consulate in Goa was nearly deserted. On most days, serpentine queues wend around the consulate’s Panjim office, which issues between 30 and 40 Portuguese passports a day. But Friday was unusually dull.

Portugal, which ruled Goa for 450 years before it was incorporated into India in 1961, recognises Goans born before that year – as well as their children and grandchildren – as Portuguese citizens. Passport agents who help applicants through the paperwork estimate that 300,000 to 400,000 Goans have become Portuguese citizens since Portugal joined the European Union in 1986.

Because citizens of European nations can live and work anywhere in the EU, an estimated 20,000 Goans have used their Portuguese passports to settle in the UK, a country that uses a language most Goans know.

But with the British exit from the EU, an event that has become to be known as Brexit, obtaining a Portuguese passport is likely to become less attractive for Goans.

Hurdles likely

“Things are going to be difficult for them from now on after Brexit,” said a consulate official who asked to remain unidentified. "Though it is expected to take a while, restrictions are bound to be put into place."

Dr Wilfred Misquita, Goa’s NRI Commissioner, agreed the Brexit verdict would create hurdles for Goans trying to enter the UK on Portuguese passports – especially those in non-specialised job sectors. “What can we do for them?" Misquita asked. "They will have to adapt to this economic problem, like everybody else.”

Day one of Brexit saw a drastic drop in the numbers of people making inquiries about passports. Among the few people there was 76-year-old Jenny Fernandes and her daughter Caroline, who had made the long trip in from South Goa to the Consular office. They were unaware of the Brexit result this morning.

The elder Fernandes said she was keen to join her son’s family in the UK. “We do not know what will happen, but let’s see what my son says we should do," she said, unaware that the situation may have changed for her. Like many Indian grandmothers, Jenny was expecting to help by babysitting her two-year-old grandson while her son and daughter-in-law were at work.

Changing plans

A middle-aged woman and her teenage son, who are in the process of preparing documents to obtain a Portuguese passport, were dismayed to hear about the Brexit verdict, but recovered quickly. “ If it is not possible to go to the UK to work, there are other countries like Germany and Spain,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified. Their initial plan, though, was to go to the UK, where the use of the English language would make their transition easier.

Chandni Rao, a twentysomething IT student from Mumbai who works for an IT firm in the UK, believed she was on surer ground. Rao’s application for a Portuguese passport is under process and is expected to come through. Her Goan father, who lives in the UK, already has a Portuguese passport, she said.

“My UK employers will work out a work visa for me," Rao said. "IT graduates are in demand in the UK. But others working in the service sector may find it difficult to stay on without a visa or work permit."

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