Starting a new chapter is always exciting - buying a property, maybe starting a business, or learning a different language. However, since the beginning of the pandemic, many people have had to suspend these dreams for a while.
This is not a surprise. Since March 2020, the number of appointments available with the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) has dropped dramatically causing difficulties for many investors with golden visas.
SEF biometric appointments: 3 different experiences
Day after day, the wait is endless. Daniel, a US citizen, is worried that even with six months left his visa may not be completed in time and he may not be able to obtain residency according to the rules in force.
This situation occupies his thoughts from morning to night. “I can barely focus on anything but awaiting my SEF biometrics appointment, the train that never comes. I check for new openings a dozen times every day, and they are never available”, he said.
“I have applied through the “golden visa” programme because my work requires me to travel frequently, and I can’t be in Portugal full time until later in life.”
Since then, his life has been a nightmare. “I have not been able to travel to Portugal since I applied for residency. I am pleased and grateful that SEF approved my application for residency in only two months, ahead of the three month estimated processing time. The next step is to meet with SEF for a biometrics appointment, but SEF has not been accepting any new appointments since my application was approved”.
Daniel loves this southern European country and can’t wait to start a normal life in Portugal. By normal he means very simple tasks like opening a bank account or getting a vaccination certificate, but this situation makes it difficult to plan his life. However, his passion for Portugal remains stronger than ever, he is determined to read and write Portuguese fluently.
“I have meaningful and comfortable conversations with Portuguese friends in their own language, watch Portuguese shows, and embrace a 100 percent Portuguese identity. If I have kids some day, they will learn many languages, but I want Portuguese to be their first language.”
In a similar situation is Ted, who has been waiting for an appointment with SEF for over a year. “I am applying for the ARI or “Golden Visa” investment scheme. My application was submitted back in May 2020 (all the paperwork, investment dollars are in Portugal already) and I am still waiting for a biometrics appointments”.
Ted fell in love with Portugal from the start and hopes to move to the country as soon as possible, but that day seems far from happening. “Since we signed up, Covid happened, so it’s not SEF’s fault. But biometric appointments have since basically been unavailable”. Therefore, he believes that SEF should stop receiving more applications until this is resolved.
But Ted is not alone. Another North American who spoke to The Portugal News is passing through a similar situation and he is worried about the negative effects on the country’s investment that this situation can bring.
“It is frustrating because I hear of the difficulties many people in Portugal have from lack of tourism and many foreigners have a sincere desire to help. Many people seeking the ARI visa are those that can come to Portugal and start companies, create jobs, spend money, invest in Portugal but it is discouraging when we hear about irregularities”.
“2021: 445 residence permits granted for investment”
The Portugal News has spoken to SEF in order to get some clarifications. According to SEF: “Due the pandemic situation and the security measures that SEF had to adopt, the number of possible services was reduced. Even though citizens who saw their appointments cancelled due to the suspension of service, between 13 February and 16 April, were notified of new appointments, in a total of about 41,400.”
In addition, “445 residence permits for investment were granted, in the amount of €237,650,555.33 since the beginning of the year until 30 June”.
When asked about the lack of appointments for golden visa applicants, SEF replied that under the ARI (Residence Permit for Investment Activity), between 1 January and 29 July 2021, 1,955 appointments were provided, noting that “until the end of September, 1,627 ARI appointments have been scheduled”.
SEF pointed out that “in the same period, 2,400 people with appointments for ARI did not attend, ending up filling a spot that was intended for other citizens.”
However, each experience can be different. There are people who have gone through a much easier process. All in all everyone seems to agree that having a good lawyer in Portugal (who is used to the national system and rules will know how to better inform you about the best programme, etc) could be a good start.