Portugal has made significant changes in its approach to immigration services by dissolving the Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF). It has replaced SEF with the newly created Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum – AIMA Portugal.

The transition was set in motion on October 29, 2023. The abolishment of SEF and the creation of a new agency is designed to streamline immigration services and address longstanding backlogs of outstanding cases for various processes, including Portugal Golden Visa cases, family reunification matters, and Portuguese citizenship applications.

In this article, we’ll explore the implications of this change, including the role of AIMA Portugal, how to apply for the Golden Visa, residence permits or passport renewals, and the fate of SEF facilities.

AIMA takes over SEF: All You Need to Know

The powers of SEF have been transferred to seven bodies: The Public Security Police (PSP), the Republican National Guard (GNR), and the Judiciary Police (PJ). Institute of Registration and Notary (IRN) and the Integration, Migration and Asylum applications (Agência para a Integração, Migrações e Asilo).

This is part of the PS government’s plan of dividing police tasks and responsibilities for approving immigrant documents to make procedures more efficient.

What is AIMA?

The World's Best BanksThe agency responsible for taking SEF’s place is AIMA, the Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum (Agência para a Integração, Migrações e Asilo).

With a budget of €81 million, 740 employees, and 34 service centers, AIMA had ambitious plans to address the backlog of approximately 347,000 pending immigration cases and visa renewals in the first quarter of 2024.

In January 2024, AIMA revised the timeline. Following this revision, AIMA plans to clear the backlog of pending cases in the coming year, and it has set a target of doing so by mid-2025.

This transition is designed to create a more streamlined and efficient immigration system for residents, family reunification, and foreign nationals seeking immigration, including Portugal Golden Visa applicants.

AIMA is tasked with managing matters concerning foreign documents, residence permits, and visa renewals in Portugal. The agency’s core mission is to facilitate integration, migration, and asylum processes in the country. AIMA plans to establish a mega-operation to resolve pending cases promptly and enhance security associated with document issuance.

A permanent audit team will also be in place to ensure internal procedures are conducted with the highest standards.

How to apply for residence permits and passport renewals

Foreign nationals residing in Portugal who need to apply for new residence permits or must go to AIMA. This is the agency responsible for administrative functions related to foreign citizens in Portugal, namely residence permits and matters related to refugees.

The issuance of the Portuguese electronic passport (the regular passport, the special passport, the temporary passport, and the passport for foreign citizens) will be done by the Instituto de Registo e Notariado (IRN).

The IRN will also be responsible for the renewal of residence permits, both temporary and permanent, with 75 non-police workers from SEF moving to the IRN to support this target. Resident permit cases for victims of human trafficking and for investment purposes will be handled by AIMA.

Where to apply for new residence permits

banks in portugakForeigners seeking to apply for new residence permits or engage in immigration-related administrative procedures should now direct their inquiries and applications to AIMA. As the new agency takes over the responsibilities previously held by SEF, it will serve as the primary point of contact for foreign nationals in Portugal.

The Government formally announced that AIMA will make a strong investment in digital infrastructure and the hiring of an additional 190 employees. In addition to the current 34 service counters, at least ten new branches will open within a year.

Specifically, these are the main measures announced by the Socialist Executive:

  • AIMA Portugal Portal was launched in late 2023 and started with requests for family reunification.
  • A mega operation is being conducted to recover the 347,000 pending cases. This operation involves local authorities, professional orders, and employees of the Local Support Centers for the Integration of Migrants.

The agency’s headquarters will be located on Avenida António Augusto de Aguiar in Lisbon, a nine-story building that ensures both efficient operation and proximity to migrants, as it is centrally located in Lisbon. In addition to the 34 service centers it already has, AIMA intends to open 10 more by the end of 2024.

How to get an AIMA Portugal appointment

To get an AIMA appointment, visit the AIMA portal. Alternatively, call +351 217 115 000 or +351 965 903 700. Both numbers are available from 8 am to 8 pm, Lisbon time.

GNR responsibilities

The Republican National Guard will oversee monitoring, inspecting, and controlling maritime and land borders, including cruise terminals. The GNR Coastal Control Unit will be renamed the GNR Coastal and Border Control Unit.

Public Security Police (PSP) responsibilities

The Public Security Police (PSP) monitors, inspects, and controls airport borders and manages temporary facilities at airports. Within PSP, the Organic Airport Security and Border Control Unit was created. This unit oversees people entering and leaving the country by air and ensuring airport security.

Tasks transferred to the Judiciary Police (PJ)

The Polícia Judiciária (PJ) is responsible for investigating illegal immigration and human trafficking. Portugal has been conducting a major crackdown on illegal immigration in recent years. Authorities from other countries are now working with the PJ to tackle problems related to illegal immigration.

Borders and Foreigners Coordination Unit responsibilities

Also known as “mini-SEF,” the Borders and Foreigners Coordination Unit will operate under the leadership of Paulo Vizeu Pinheiro, the secretary general of the Internal Security System.

This unit is responsible for coordinating actions between different police forces, the IRN and AIMA. This ensures cooperation and coordination regarding people’s movement, return, and border control.

The Borders and Foreigners Coordination Unit will also manage administrative functions related to police databases and information systems related to borders and foreign and international police cooperation.

Future of SEF facilities

When AIMA takes over SEF, the facilities once dedicated to this agency will undergo transformation, with the offices across the country being transferred to the new responsible services.

However, the specific details regarding the future of the SEF headquarters in Porto Salvo (Oeiras municipality, Lisbon district) have not been disclosed, but it is likely that they will be repurposed or integrated into other government operations.

Portugal Immigration Services: A helpful guide to relocation

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Implications of AIMA replacing SEF

Portugal’s dissolution of SEF and the introduction of AIMA represent a substantial shift in the country’s approach to immigration and its processes. AIMA’s ambitious plans and focus on streamlining processes aim to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of immigration services for both residents and foreign nationals.

However, during this transitional period, some delays may be expected, so applicants should be prepared for potential adjustments as AIMA takes over SEF and its new responsibilities.

AIMA Portugal and the Golden Visa

The purpose of AIMA is to provide better efficiency in handling the current backlog of Golden Visa applications, family reunification, and similar programs. By adding more local support centers, the relevant local authorities and civil society members can assist in

Exploring Visa and Immigration Options for Portugal

If you're considering making the move to Portugal, it's essential to be informed about the various visa and residency options available. The Golden Visa Portugal program is an attractive option for many, offering residency to investors and their families. For those eyeing retirement in this beautiful country, the Retirement Visa (D7) is tailored for you. Digital nomads can take advantage of both short and long stay options with the Nomad Visa (D8). Meanwhile, the NHR - Non Habitual Tax regime provides significant tax benefits for new residents. 

For the entrepreneurial spirit, Portugal offers the Entrepreneurship/startup Visa (D2) - Start-up Visa (open company) tailored for those looking to establish their businesses in the country. Those with specialized skills can explore the Work visa for highly qualified employees (D3). Additionally, if you have Portuguese ancestry, you might be eligible for Citizenship by descent

However, moving to a new country isn't just about visas. If you're thinking of buying property, our guide on Buying Property in Portugal can offer invaluable insights. Dive deeper into the immigration process with our comprehensive Portugal immigration guide. For Americans specifically looking to relocate, we have curated information on Americans moving to Portugal. Lastly, one can't forget the importance of the NIF (Tax Registration Number), a crucial step in any relocation process. 

Frequently Asked Questions about AIMA taking over SEF

Is SEF Portugal disbanded?

Yes, Portugal dissolved the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) in October 2023. The powers of the SEF security service will be transferred to seven bodies. The new Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum (AIMA) will handle all matters concerning foreign documents and administrative functions related to migrants and asylum. The change aims to streamline immigration processes and address longstanding backlogs.

Who will replace SEF?

The government of Portugal will replace SEF with the Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum (AIMA). AIMA will handle all aspects of immigration, focusing on administrative tasks concerning foreign citizens in Portugal, including residence permits, refugee matters, and Portuguese citizenship applications.

What is AIMA in Portugal?

The Agency for Integration, Migrations and Asylum (AIMA) was created to replace SEF and the High Commission for Migrations, which was also abolished.

AIMA is responsible for administrative tasks related to foreign citizens in Portugal, namely residence permits and refugee matters.

What is the difference between AIMA and SEF?

The key difference between AIMA and SEF lies in their scope. SEF was both an immigration administration agency and the borders service. AIMA focuses solely on the administrative side, issuing documents and promoting immigrant integration, while border control duties shifted to police forces.

Is AIMA working in Portugal?

Yes, AIMA began operating in Portugal on October 30, 2023. This new agency was created in order to create a more integrated immigration system with greater efficiency.

Will AIMA make Portugal's immigration system more efficient?

AIMA has the potential to make Portugal’s immigration system more efficient. Unlike SEF, it doesn’t have to deal with border control duties and immigration issues. Additionally, AIMA has invested heavily in human resources and digital infrastructure. Ultimately, this helps the new agency process applications quicker and makes these services more efficient in the medium to long term.

Will AIMA handle the Golden Visa applications?

Yes. To streamline processes and expedite the backlog of immigration, renewals and Golden Visa applications. AIMA aims to utilize technology to make