Thousands of people once occupying Goa’s restful, sunny villages now work for car makers, hospitals and chicken factories in this grimy English industrial town that has become the latest addition to regions in Britain identified with significant migration of particular communities from India.
Visit any house or take a walk along the streets and you can hear popular “Kantar” songs by legendary Konkani singer Lorna and others, as the aroma of Goan cuisine wafts across accompanied by animated discussions in Konkani.
“They are Portuguese citizens, but their heart is in Goa,” said Jaime Barreto, a Goa-origin civil servant. “They send money to Goa, buy property there, and if given better employment opportunities, some would happily return. But many are pleased with the better quality of life and prefer to stay for their children’s future.”
Most are happy doing temporary jobs in Swindon’s factories, shops and hospitals. Parts of Swindon such as Elmina Road, Manchester Road and Broad Street have transformed into Goan enclaves. Property prices dropped as previous residents moved out and the Goans took over.
“There is a massive migration of Goans via the Portuguese passport rule,” said Armando Gonsalves, chairman of Goa ForGiving Trust, who recently visited Swindon. “Successive governments in Goa have failed to provide meaningful job opportunities back home and this is the reason why people are lining up to come to Europe”.
Swindon is now identified with Goa in the same way that Southall is identified with people from Punjab, or Leicester with Gujarat. Lack of employment is the main “push” factor from Goa, but many find the labour market tough in an economically-challenged Britain and end up living on the margins on state benefits.
“I have just come to England in the hope of better career opportunities, but I was a little disappointed when I realised that it is not all that hunky-dory as is perceived back home in Goa,” said Carol Rosario.
The exodus has hit church attendance in Goan villages, but has boosted it in Swindon. There is some local crime involving Goans and issues over some Swindon schools being attended mostly by Poles, Romanians and Goans.
Campaign group MigrationWatch has lobbied the UK government to close a “loophole” that allows Goans to claim Portugese citizenship and move to England.
The Goan migration is part of a wider concern over unrestricted immigration in Britain from within the EU, which entitles Poles, Romanians and others full rights to live and work here, and access full state benefits.
The Portuguese passport route is also prone to abuse, since it is based on official and church records of births maintained during Portuguese rule in Goa, Daman and Diu— not all of them survive in original form.
In June, under an operation codenamed “Magic Book”, the Foreign and Borders Service (SEF) of Portugal busted a major international network involving some Indians and Pakistanis who arranged fake papers to enable thousands of people to gain Portuguese nationality for a price.
The union home ministry is currently dealing with issues related to some Goans who acquire Portuguese passports but do not give up their Indian citizenship. India does not allow dual citizenship.