LISBON (Reuters) - All foreigners in Portugal with pending applications will be treated as permanent residents from Monday until at least July 1, authorities said on Saturday, to ensure migrants have access to public services during the coronavirus outbreak.
Applicants including asylum seekers need only provide evidence of an ongoing request to qualify - granting them access to the national health service, welfare benefits, bank accounts, and work and rental contracts.
“People should not be deprived of their rights to health and public service just because their application has not yet been processed,” Claudia Veloso, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, told Reuters. “In these exceptional times, the rights of migrants must be guaranteed.”
The policy also aims to reduce contagion risk by minimising contact between border control service staff and applicants, the statement said.
Portugal has reported 5,170 cases of the virus and 100 deaths, far below neighbouring Spain.
Health authorities expect cases to peak at the end of May.
It was not known how many people had ongoing residency applications, but government statistics show that a record 580,000 immigrants resided in Portugal in 2019 and 135,000 people were granted residency that year alone.
Brazilians make up the majority of immigrants, official data shows, followed by Romanians, Ukrainians, Britons and Chinese.
Reporting by Victoria Waldersee; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne