The report “Monitoring of the activity and process of Extinction of the Foreigners Service” reports on the “high number of complaints to the ombudsman of Justice”, Maria Lúcia Amaral, about the process after the presentation of an expression of interest (IM) to obtain a residence permit (AR) in Portugal via visa-free work.
“In 2022, the trend that had been observed since 2020, to increase the deadline for validation/acceptance of IM for granting AR, was accentuated. Thus, while in 2020 the period will have been around eight months, in 2022 it already exceeded two years. In addition, the fact that, from the validation, it often takes three or four months to schedule a face-to-face service and almost a year until the final decision on the requests”, specifies the document.
The IM to work in Portugal, request formalised with SEF to obtain an AR, is made through the electronic platform of the Automatic Pre-Scheduling System (SAPA).
The Ombudsman questioned the national direction of SEF about “the worsening delay in the processing of procedures“, which “recognized the inability to deal with the high number of requests, due to lack of human resources and technological means, namely to meet the high number of IM registered monthly in the SAPA portal”.
The report underlines that the monthly average of document validations last year was around 2,500, while the average IM presented was around 18,000, meaning that, throughout that year, the average growth in liabilities will have been over 15,000 a 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, that is, about two years earlier.
Unable to respond
“The increase in vacancies available for scheduling, from around 4,000 to 6,000 vacancies per month, was unable to respond to the total number of requests, accumulating, since then, approximately 24,000 MI every month”, he indicates, specifying that they were pending 289,415 IM on the SAPA portal in January 2023.
“More than the exact determination of the number of IM pending on the SAPA portal — in January 2023, 289,514 MI were pending in this context —, it is the tendency towards a significant increase in liabilities that causes serious concern”, warns the ombudsman.
The report also underlines that, in 2021 and 2022, “only 26,738 and 26,065 cases were validated, respectively, that is, in the set of these two years there were fewer validations than in 2020 (with 72,720 validations), being certain that, from 2021 for 2022, the number of those interested in RA via IM increased more than three times”.
The report also draws attention to the functioning of the SEF Contact Center, which cannot cope with the volume of work, and to the scheduling of face-to-face assistance, with an average foreign citizen waiting around three months.
The Ombudsman indicates that the difficulty in establishing a telephone contact with the SEF is aggravated whenever this service advertises the availability of vacancies for scheduling
“Concretely, the combination, in the same day, of the opening of 42,848 vacancies for a wide range of purposes made the normally available number of telephone lines clearly insufficient, grouped into a fixed number and a mobile number, not giving a full response to the access that immediately has been attempted by all concerned. This happened, for example, on October 14, 2022”, says the report.