It’s not sunk in yet, but thousands of Goans who settled in Britain after acquiring Portuguese passports are likely to be affected by the June 23 referendum, whether the UK votes to stay or leave the European Union.
Using Portugal’s nationality law, which allows anyone born before December 19, 1961 (the date of Goa’s liberation from Portugal) and their three generations to acquire Portuguese nationality, thousands have migrated and settled in Britain, mainly in Swindon and London.
As Portuguese nationals, they become EU citizens, which entitles them to live and work in any of the 28 members of the bloc under the “freedom of movement” principle.
These Goans move to Britain and not to Portugal, which has been in the throes of economic crisis, leading to many young Portuguese migrating for employment. According to an Oxford analysis, the “India-born Portuguese citizens” accounted for just over 20,000 UK residents in the first quarter of 2015.
Calling it “backdoor entry” into Britain, groups such as Migration Watch UK have opposed their migration.
Rabi Martins, the Goa-origin councillor in Watford, north London, told Hindustan Times: “It is a walk into the unknown. Goans now need to rethink before applying for Portuguese passports, since the EU referendum will adversely affect them. Brexit will make it worse, but even a vote to stay in will make it difficult.”
According to the deal recently secured by Prime Minister David Cameron in Brussels, if Britain votes to stay in the EU, there will be several curbs on EU nationals accessing Britain’s state financial benefits, currently received by thousands of recently migrated Goans.
A vote for Brexit is likely to mean EU nationals (including the Goan-Portuguese) will need a work permit, currently required for Indian and other non-EU citizens. It will also mean no access to benefits and public funds until they get permanent residency after five years of stay.
Martins said the thousands of recently migrated Goans find life is not exactly great in Britain: “Many highly qualified people end up doing menial work in supermarkets, etc. It’s sad but they won’t admit it to anyone back home. The impact of Brexit on new and recently-migrated Goans needs to be highlighted.”
Armando Gonsalves, chairman of Goa ForGiving Trust, said, “It is amazing that Goans are going to Britain via the Portuguese passport rule when there are many opportunities back home. They leave behind priceless properties as they head to Britain with the hope that they will improve their lives.”
He added: “I believe this is part of a herd mentality, demand remains high. I met many such people in London who were unhappy and disgruntled, but are not ready to return home due to a false sense of pride, since their erstwhile Goan friends would laugh at them.”
Portugal was the first Western country to colonise parts of India (Goa, from 1510) and the last to leave (in 1961). The Goan migration to Britain has led to several social problems in their villages of origin, including empty neighbourhoods and low church attendance.