SEF takes more than two years to validate processes for obtaining residence

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Almost 300,000 expressions of interest to obtain a residence permit in Portugal were pending at SEF in January this year, taking this security service more than two years to validate these requests, the Ombudsman’s Office revealed today.

The report “Monitoring the activity and the process of extinguishing the Foreigners’ Service” reports on the “high number of complaints to the Ombudsman”, Maria Lúcia Amaral, about the process after submitting an expression of interest (MI) to obtain a residence permit (AR) in Portugal through work with visa waiver.

“In 2022, the trend that had been observed since 2020, towards an increase in the period of validation/acceptance of IM for granting AR, was accentuated. Thus, while in 2020 the deadline was around eight months, in 2022 it was already over two years. In addition, from validation, it often takes three or four months to schedule face-to-face service and almost a year until the final decision on applications “, the document states.

The MI to work in Portugal, a formalized request to SEF to obtain an AR, is made through the electronic platform of the Automatic Pre-Appointment System (SAPA).

The Ombudsman questioned the national management of SEF about “the worsening of the delay in the processing of procedures”, which “recognized the inability to cope with the high number of requests, due to lack of human resources and technological means, namely to meet the high number of MI registered monthly on the SAPA portal”.

The report highlights that the monthly average of document validations last year was around 2,500, while the average number of IMs submitted was around 18,000, meaning that over that year, the average growth in liabilities will have been over 15,000 per month.

According to the document, 30,000 new IMs have been received per month since October 2023, with IMs submitted in December 2020 being scheduled in January 2023, i.e. about two years earlier.

“The increase in places available for scheduling, from about 4,000 to 6,000 places per month, could not respond to the total number of requests, accumulating, since then, approximately 24,000 MI every month”, he indicates, specifying that 289,415 MI were pending on the SAPA portal in January 2023.

“More than the exact determination of the number of pending MI on the SAPA portal – in January 2023, 289,514 MI were pending in this framework – it is the trend towards a significant increase in liabilities that causes serious concern”, warns the Ombudsman.

SEF takes more than two years to validate processes for obtaining residence

The report also underlines that, in 2021 and 2022, “only 26,738 and 26,065 cases were validated, respectively, that is, in these two years together there were fewer validations than in 2020 (with 72,720 validations), while it is certain that, from 2021 to 2022, the number of people interested in AR through MI increased more than three times”.

The report also draws attention to the functioning of the SEF Contact Center, which is unable to cope with the workload, and to the scheduling of face-to-face assistance, waiting on average for a foreign citizen for about three months.

The Ombudsman’s Office indicates that the difficulty in establishing a telephone contact with SEF is aggravated whenever this service advertises the availability of vacancies for scheduling.

“Specifically, the addition, on the same day, of the opening of 42,848 vacancies for a wide range of purposes clearly made the number of telephone lines normally available insufficient, grouped into a fixed number and a mobile number, not providing a full response to the access that was immediately attempted by all interested parties. This was the case, for example, on October 14, 2022”, the report states.

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