Immigration of Portuguese to the UK almost tripled in the fourth quarter of 2020, ahead of the deadline for securing post-Brexit residence rights, but the annual figure was the lowest since 2002, official statistics show.
Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions published on 25 February show that 168 Portuguese nationals registered with Social Security between September and December 2020, up from 60 registrations in the previous quarter, from July to September.
Social Security registration is a requirement to be able to work and benefit from the social support system in the UK and an indicator used to calculate population flows into the country.
With the end of the post-Brexit transition period on 31 December, Europeans’ freedom of movement in the UK ended, so European Union (EU) citizens had until the end of the year to settle in British territory in order to secure resident status.
Those who arrived after 2021 are subject to the new points-based immigration system, which demands, among other requirements, a work contract, knowledge of the English language and a minimum salary.
The increase in Portuguese registrations in the last quarter followed the general picture among European citizens, as between September and December 2020 the Ministry of Labour counted 3,235 registrations with Social Security, triple the 1,164 of the previous quarter.
The researcher at the Emigration Observatory, Inês Vidigal, admits that there has been some last-minute effort to legalise in the country, but believes that the increase at the end of 2020 will be more related to the restoration of mobility in international terms, affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“In the middle two quarters of the year the borders were closed, but in the last quarter movement became easier. There may also have been a compensation of the [Labour Ministry] services, which will have been limited,” he told Lusa news agency.
In total, 6,664 Portuguese nationals were registered with British Social Security in 2020, 73 percent less than the 24,593 of the previous year, and the lowest figure since 2002, when these statistics began to be collected.
With the exception of 2019, when an unexpected increase was recorded compared to the previous year, since 2016 the trend of emigration of Portuguese and Europeans to the UK has been downwards, a phenomenon that researchers attribute to the perception created by the referendum that dictated the country’s exit from the European Union (EU).
Although the Covid-19 pandemic has also affected migration flows and economic activity in the UK, ‘Brexit’ is one of the factors pointed to for the sharp 75 percent drop in EU citizens’ social security records.
In 2020, the UK Department of Labour received 116,000 registrations, 340,000 fewer than in 2019.