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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

Brexit no dampener as more Goans migrate to UK

From 7,000 Portuguese citizens resident in Britain in 2012 who were born in India, the figure has gone up to 28,000 in the year ending June 2017.

world Updated: Nov 01, 2017 07:57 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
A food stall at the UK Goan Festival held in London in August 2017.
A food stall at the UK Goan Festival held in London in August 2017. (HT Photo)

There has been a four-fold increase in the number of India-born Portuguese citizens migrating to Britain since 2012, with anxieties over their stay in the country after Brexit not putting off migrants from the former Portuguese colony of Goa. 

The Office for National Statistics told Hindustan Times that from 7,000 Portuguese citizens resident in Britain in 2012 who were born in India, the figure has gone up to 28,000 in the year ending June 2017. Most of them have settled in London, Swindon and Leicester.

Portuguese nationality law allows people born before Goa’s liberation on December 19, 1961, and their children, to opt for its citizenship, which makes them citizens of the European Union and thus eligible to migrate, live and work in any of the 28 countries of the EU. 

“There is some fear at the back of the mind due to Brexit, but that has not stopped more Goans from giving up Indian citizenship and applying for Portuguese nationality. The situation is bad in Goa, many don’t see a future there,” Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco, the Congress MLA from Curtorim currently on a visit to London, told Hindustan Times. 

“Most of those leaving Goa are youngsters, they are not leaving out of love of London or Britain, but they just don’t get jobs there. Some are scared about the future. Not only Catholics, many Hindus have opted for Portuguese passports and left.”

The migration of Goans to Britain via Portuguese citizenship has led to demands that the Theresa May government stop the “loophole” that allows the alleged back door entry to the UK, since most do not go to Portugal but migrate to Britain. 

As Portuguese citizens, they are part of the estimated 3 million EU citizens in Britain currently caught up in Brexit talks over their continued stay in the country. Prime Minister May has linked their fate to that of 1.5 million British citizens in EU countries after Brexit.

“Brexit is not really a worry because Goans as you know have migrated to various countries over the centuries, to Africa, Europe and elsewhere. We will see how Brexit plays out, but don’t think it will affect us adversely,” said John Menezes, a structural engineer from Panaji who migrated to London in 2016 with his son after acquiring Portuguese nationality.

The presence of recently arrived Goans is apparent in places such as Heathrow, Southall and Hounslow, where many have found employment in the hospitality and retail sectors. Dwindling church attendance in the area has been boosted by their arrival.

“Brexit is no longer in the forefront of Goans’ minds. In fact, the concern is more about the overall economy and how the pound’s fluctuations will affect decisions such as buying houses. After all, Goans are survivors, we have seen the worst in Africa too,” said Rabi Martins, councillor in Watford and a senior local leader of the Liberal Democrats. 

However, Panaji-origin civil servant Jaime Barreto added: “We are still not aware of the rules that will apply post-Brexit. Many Goans with Portuguese citizenship, who have been here for some years, have started applying for British passports just to be on the safe side.”

According to Lourenco, many Goans in Britain will return home after working here. There have already been some examples of such Portuguese citizens returning to Goa, he said, and refuted claims that Goans were living in miserable conditions in London and elsewhere.

“They are not beggars who came here, they are certainly not living miserably, as some MLAs have claimed in Goa. There is dignity of work here, they don’t want to stay indefinitely, but return after working and improving their economic conditions,” he said.

Thousands of Goans gathered in the grounds of the Cranford Community College in west London on August 7 for the annual Goa Festival. Organised by the Goan Association UK (established in 1966), the event saw one of the largest gatherings in recent years. 

There are three Goa-origin MPs in the House of Commons: Keith Vaz, Valerie Vaz (both Labour) and Suella Fernandes (Conservative). 

Portugal was the first Western country to colonise parts of India (Goa, from 1510) and the last to leave (in 1961).

India-born UK residents with Portuguese nationality:

2012 7,000

2013 13,000

2014 13,000

2015 21,000

2016 25,000

2017 28,000

(Source: Estimates with less than 5% variation from the Office for National Statistics, UK)

First Published: Oct 31, 2017 07:20 IST