The long-standing problem with delays in issuing Golden Visas at SEF (Foreigners and Border Service) continues. Delays in scheduling an appointment – which is necessary to obtain the Residence Permit for Investment (ARI) – increased dramatically in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other factors that have significantly caused this backlog in the last couple of years are the war in Ukraine, whereby SEF had to process over 60,000 residences in the first half of last year for Ukrainian citizens, and the high number of applications for the Golden Visa program.
Investors need to look for vacancies on the platform to book appointments with SEF, which became increasingly scarce after the pandemic.
The result was that investors with approved Golden Visas had to wait months until they received an email to schedule an appointment.
How does the process work?
Once the Golden Visa application is analyzed by SEF and receives the go-ahead, SEF then indicates the dates available to schedule the appointment. The legal provision (Article 105) states that SEF has three months to inform the applicant of their decision and indicate the dates available for the applicant to make an appointment with SEF. In some cases, it can be extended to a further three months in exceptional circumstances associated with the complexity of the analysis of the application.
The SEF Procedure Manual (in Portuguese) foresees a deadline of 10 to 60 days for the scheduling of the biometrics collection. However, it is unclear as to whether this refers to making the appointment or whether the appointment itself should occur within this time frame.
Many investors have taken cases relating to delays in obtaining a Golden Visa to court, with reports stating that, to date, SEF has lost 18 cases. It is this deadline provided in the law for appointments that the courts have made favorable decisions for foreign investors, whereby the delays in the process are not legal.
But what led us to this point?
The events that led to the significant delays in applicants scheduling their appointment with SEF are numerous. The COVID-19 pandemic, general elections, and the appointment of the new government in Portugal placed extra pressure on the shoulders of SEF. This is without mentioning the war in Ukraine, where SEF had to process over 60,000 residences in the first half of last year for Ukrainian citizens. In a sensible manner, the decision within SEF was to prioritize the issuance of visas to Ukrainian citizens for obvious political and humanitarian reasons.
Furthermore, internal planned changes within SEF, which is transitioning from its current form, increased the backlog. The scheduled reshuffling was scheduled for May last year but was postponed.
With these external and internal issues at hand, the ARI platform that enables investors to submit their Golden Visa applications was frozen between January and mid-June.
Attending a SEF appointment is one of the required steps to obtain the Portugal Golden Visa, whereby the required documentation is given, and biometrics data is collected. Applicants are required to attend the appointment after their application has been approved by specialists of that entity.