Thousands of Goans who migrated to the UK on an EU passport using their Portuguese ancestry are hoping Britain votes to remain in the 28-nation bloc in tomorrow’s referendum over fears their immigration status could change in the event of a British exit or ‘Brexit’.
According to the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS), there are around 20,000 Goans holding Portuguese passports who live and work in the UK.
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They used their right of freedom of movement within the EU to settle in Britain over the years but now fear their immigration status could change after the referendum in the event of a British exit from the European Union.
“There is a lot of ambiguity. Forget Goans, even British citizens are not clear what a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote in the referendum would really mean. In the process it causes a lot of concern and unease among Goans who have made the UK their home with their families,” said Ravi Vaz, president of the Goan Association (UK).
The association, founded in 1966 as a cultural and professional hub for Goans across UK and Europe, said Goans in India in the process of applying for their Portuguese passports have also been affected.
“There were many Goans mid-way through this process suddenly left unsure about their future. They may have applied after narrowing down job opportunities here but are now no longer sure what the future would hold in the UK,” he said.
The UK has been the first choice for Goans who acquire their Portuguese nationality mainly due to the comfort of the English language and a strong Goan community in Britain, concentrated largely in Swindon, southwest England, and parts of London.
They are mostly employed within the catering and hospitality sector in customer service roles or as chefs but also as IT professionals and labourers.
“Most of the Goans based here are professionals who come with a particular skill set or are entrepreneurs. They have moved here to improve their circumstances and not for the benefits system. In the event of changes following the referendum, they will still be part of the EU and may look at going to Germany or France or other EU countries that have job opportunities,” said Flavio Gracias, a Goan who has been based in London since 1968.
The option of an EU nationality for some Goans has its roots in the Portuguese colonisation of Goa in the 16th century.
The region was ruled by the European nation for nearly 450 years before it officially became a part of India in 1961.
According to data from the Election Commission of India, 11,500 Goans surrendered their Indian passports in favour of Portuguese citizenship in the five years between January 2008 and January 2013.
This figure is now estimated to be closer to 24,000, many of whom have settled in the UK.