Delays in gold visas: investor takes SEF to court and wins


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After 5 months frozen, SEF’s ARI portal is up and running. But the waiting times to get the visa are 18 months.

The chaos at the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) continues. Between January and mid-June, foreign investors were prevented from submitting their applications for gold visas due to the unavailability of the platform, as reported by idealista/news.

Now the platform is up and running, but the waiting time for appointments – a necessary step in obtaining a visa – has skyrocketed, having more than doubled since the Covid-19 pandemic. An investor can wait up to 18 months for a meeting with SEF. Faced with this scenario, a foreign investor decided to take the SEF to court. And the judge eventually proved him right and ordered the SEF to expedite his process. This decision is for this particular case and “it is an important precedent that can be used as a paradigm to guide the trial of similar cases,” Bettino Zanini, the lawyer who handled the case, tells idealista/news.

Delays in gold visas: investor takes SEF to court and wins
Sef logo

To better understand how gold visas are obtained through real estate investment – or any other type of investment – we explain the process in stages with the help of lawyer Bettino Zanini, an immigration specialist:

  1. First you have to submit your application for a gold visa on the SEF’s ARI (Autorização de Residência por Investimento) portal – which, by the way, was unavailable between January and mid-June causing several constraints for investors and professionals;
  2. Then, the same application will be analyzed by SEF specialists, an evaluation that used to take two to three months on average – but now, the waiting time is over eight months.
  3. When the application is approved, investors can schedule a date at the SEF for the delivery of the legally required documentation and the collection of their biometric data. And at this stage, foreign investors could choose from several dates close to approval. But after the pandemic, vacancies became scarce and now approved applicants wait months until they receive an email for the scheduling appointment.

“The substantial increase in the waiting time between making the investment and obtaining the residence permit has been one of the factors driving away foreigners’ interest in investing in Portugal,” Attorney Bettino Zanini

Attorney Bettino Zanini
Attorney Bettino Zanini

“The waiting times between approval and scheduling have increased considerably,” Bettino reports, noting that the first dates available from SEF are for almost six months after approval. It turns out that “golden visa investors are looking for a forecast of how long the process might take. And a procedure that used to take 6 or 8 months, now takes 18 months or more after the Covid-19 pandemic,” informs the legal expert in these matters.

Court orders SEF to speed up investor’s gold visa process

Families who make large real estate investments in Portugal, in order to obtain residence permits in the country, make significant decisions in their lives based on the deadlines that are given by SEF. As was the case of the foreign investor who put the SEF in court.

It was in December 2021 that the English citizen, a client of Bettino Zanini, decided to invest 350 thousand euros in a real estate investment fund in Portugal for the purpose of a residence permit. And “he was already prepared to wait eight months to have his residence permit issued and move to Portugal with his family,” says the lawyer in statements to idealista/news. With this move in mind, the foreign citizen “planned to leave his country of residence to come and live in Portugal”: he rented a house, enrolled his daughter in a school, and left the country where he lived.

“Investors choose to invest substantial capital and with that they expect to be treated seriously and predictably,” Bettino Zanini, lawyer

With the investment made, the investor went ahead with his online application on the SEF’s ARI Portal at the end of 2021 to obtain residency in the country. And, from then on, the deadlines started to slip: “The waiting time for the whole procedure, which was already long, was increasing,” comments Bettino Zanini. After five months, the investor was still waiting for the approval of the first stage and that’s when he decided to take legal action against the SEF. Even because expectations were not the best in terms of waiting: “Investors who were being approved at that time were still waiting long months until they got their schedules”, he details.

The lawsuit was filed in court on April 11, 2022. And in July, the lawyer received the judge’s final decision: the SEF would have to analyze and decide on his client’s application for gold visas and, if the application met all the required criteria, would have to provide an appointment for the investor and his family within 10 days, so they could deliver all the required documentation and collect biometric data. “Just like us, the client was very pleased with the decision rendered by the Administrative Court of Lisbon Circle,” the lawyer further shared with idealist/news.

Is the court decision on gold visas valid for other cases?

Brass Scales of Justice in a close up view
Brass Scales of Justice in a close up view

Questioned about whether the position taken by the court in this gold visa case can be applied to other similar cases, Bettino Zanini clarifies that the “decision applies only to this case”. But “it is an important precedent that can be used as a paradigm to guide the judgment of similar cases,” he stresses.

And this case also leaves a warning to the competent authorities to look at the long waiting time that investors face because, in fact, this scenario “is very harmful to the program that aims to attract foreign investment in Portugal and boost the country’s economy.

It should also be noted that foreign citizens have to pay large amounts of money to access residence permits. “Each investor pays almost 6 thousand euros in fees for the issue of their residence permits, which is much higher than other types of residence permits, [but] in return they receive inferior quality service with much longer delays than in other cases,” highlights the immigration specialist.

Obtaining Gold Visas: What are the main obstacles?

The gold visa program has been one of the government’s flagships to attract foreign capital to the country in recent years. But there are several problems it faces, besides the waiting times. We take note of each one of them, point by point:

  • Change to the gold visa program at the beginning of 2022: As of January 1, 2022, real estate investment is directly barred to the metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Porto and to the coast of the country in an attempt to promote investment in the interior;
  • Extinction of the SEF: this is a process that has been dragging on for several months and has caused labor instability and constraints, particularly in terms of the reduction in human resources;
  • ARI platform frozen for months: from January until mid-June 2022, the platform to apply for a residence permit through investment was frozen, with a message saying that this type of investment “lacked regulation”, as investigated and reported first-hand by idealista/news. During those months, “investors who had made an investment in real estate (within the permitted areas and conditions) were unable to submit their applications online,” the lawyer recalls. But the government eventually clarified that the new rule (regarding the territorial limitation of investment) was immediately applicable and did not depend on regulation. In mid-June, the platform was up and running again.

With the ARI platform frozen for more than five months, “those who invested in January 2022 stayed until June waiting for the situation to be resolved and now have to wait another 18 months until they get their residence permits,” the expert points out.

“There are several investors in this situation and the Government needs to make an effort to analyze and decide these procedures in an acceptable time, but the delay has been growing and little has been done to speed up these procedures,” says Bettino Zanin

And he warns that the consequences of this situation – and of all the recent chaos at the SEF – may drive investors away, tarnishing Portugal’s image, and lead them to invest in other countries: “A foreign investor always looks at other countries where he can invest before opting for Portugal, which has a very interesting program compared to other countries. The waiting time between one phase and another has acted as a disincentive to foreign investment for the purposes of the gold visa, which is an important driver of the country’s economy,” he concludes.

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