By Anayat Durrani
Portugal’s Borders and Immigration Service, the SEF, has halted acceptance of new applications since December 2021, apart from applications filed under the job creation and cultural heritage investment pathway.
“A variety of global circumstances, such as the pandemic, which has been going on for 2 years with consecutive lock downs, the war in Ukraine in February, and the subsequent applications for temporary protection of Ukrainian citizens—which implied, in Portugal, the allocation of a huge number of SEF resources, including human resources—have created globally a significant delay and suspension of the activity of public administration,” says Bárbara Pestana, lawyer and partner at Paxlegal, based in Lisbon, Portugal.
The other categories have been impacted due to policy changes under new rules that have, as of yet not been updated on the SEF platform, due to reorganization of immigration responsibilities within the government of Portugal.
“To these global factors are added, in Portugal, two important factors: To be applied the new Golden Visa regime must be previously regulated by the government, which, in turn, only took office late at the end of March, with a countless number of legislative priorities to take, including the approval of the Portuguese state budget,” says Pestana.
Changes in the administration of the Golden Visa program in Portugal
The SEF is to be handled by the Agência Portuguesa para as Migrações e Asilo (APMA) which would govern new golden visa applications and the Instituto dos Registos e do Notariado (IRN) that oversees visa renewals and permanent residencies. Both bureaus were impacted by the general election and protests by union workers at the SEF, causing further delays.
Pestana says applications that were submitted through December 2021 are being analyzed and approved by SEF. She says no Golden Visas based on the modalities that were changed by the new law have been filed, due to awaiting regulation by the government.
“Future investors must wait for the regulation of the new Golden Visa regime, and they can start making their investment already in a smooth way, so that everything will be ready by the time SEF starts accepting the submission of GV applications again,” says Pestana.
Pestana says it is currently possible to submit Golden Visa applications, based on two modalities that have not changed with the new Golden Visa regime: (1) the creation of 10 jobs (2) the transfer of capital of an amount equal to or greater than €250,000 to support artistic production and the recovery/maintenance of cultural heritage.
“The new Golden Visa applications, based on modalities which requirements were changed by the new regime, namely the most popular ones, based on investment in simple capital transfer, funds and real estate, must wait for the regulation of the new law,” says Pestana.
Emi Silva, Head of the Lisbon Office of Henley & Partners, says the program is not on hold and is not temporarily suspended and says they have been receiving acceptance emails for all the clients that were uploaded last year in November.
However, Silva says they are still unable to submit new applications to the government’s online platform.
“We’ve experienced this issue since January when the government’s website was down for that specific procedure, and we are still awaiting new government regulation to be implemented,” says Silva. “Because SEF continues to be unresponsive in this regard, there is no information we can provide to the clients as to when the applications via the government online platform will be working again.”
Silva says the rush to invest at the end of 2021, has created a bottleneck in processing applications and delays to the waiting period from upload to acceptance.
“What used to take around 12 weeks is now a waiting period of over 6 months. Today we received an acceptance that was submitted on the government online platform on 16th November 2021, therefore they are currently taking 29 weeks,” says Silva.
Silva says after a client is accepted, clients are placed in line chronologically from this date.
“The lawyers can no longer book biometrics appointments, as SEF is doing it itself. Again, SEF is not providing any estimated dates, or alternatives for clients who have not been able to attend their appointments. In fact, SEF has not called in applicants since February,” says Silva.
Impact of SEF’s non-action for investors to Portugal’s Golden Visa program
Silva says the new chronological order only applies to initial applicants, not those who are in renewing periods of the process.
“Hence, clients in Year 1, Year 3 and Year 5 cannot book their biometrics and renew their cards, and are not being called,” says Silva.
Silva says SEF does not release information in this regard, or provide alternatives.
“Although the years continue to count towards Citizenship or Permanent Residence, this is causing further frustration as clients are unable to use their residencies as valid and if they have to apply for Schengen visas again, they will not be able to access the Schengen area,” says Silva.
Silva says clients that have already been granted the GRP and have the card, by law the GRP cards are valid until June 30, 2022 and this is continuously counting towards the 5 years. However, Silva noted the government keeps postponing this date.
For clients in Portugal, they can still live, work and study with an expired card, however they cannot travel in the Schengen area with an expired card and therefore need to ask for a Schengen visa.
“We have confirmation from the lawyers that all the acts that do not derive from you, the client, cannot prejudice the client’s application and therefore, the time will continue to count until it is possible to submit the renewal application,” says Silva.
The current law states, per Silva, that to be eligible for the Portuguese citizenship, a person needs to hold 5 years of residency within 15 years, even interrupted.
“For the clients that have not been uploaded, these are understandably getting frustrated and anxious as the 5 years has not even started and they have no idea or information on when everything will be working again,” says Silva.
Meanwhile, Silva notes that Q1 2022 is a record-breaker in terms of the number of enquiries received by Henley & Partners for the Portugal Golden Residence Permit Program.
Silva says Q3 2021 saw the highest number of clients processed for the program by Henley & Partners and Q1 2022 was the 4th highest on record.
“We have been receiving new clients on a daily basis and setting up introductory calls with all of them,” says Silva. “We can definitely start the process but unfortunately we are unable to submit their application on the government online platform.”
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