The president of Associação Solidariedade Imigrante, Timóteo Macedo, told the Lusa News Agency that “it is very difficult” for foreign citizens to get an appointment at Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) to deal with residence permits in Portugal.

“The organised mafias and law firms take all the appointments. When they open appointments, they last 15 minutes on the SEF platform”, he maintained, that immigrants are “being exploited” when they are charged “hundreds of Euros for an appointment”.

The president of Associação Solidariedade Imigrante defends a new scheduling system, stressing that the previous system, in which SEF contacted the immigrant by telephone message after a pre-scheduling phase, was more effective, despite taking a long time.

In August 2019, the SEF filed a complaint with the Public Ministry (MP) for evidence of a crime of aiding illegal immigration due to the alleged sale of appointments on classified advertisement portals.

At the time, SEF stated that there could be an “abusive use” of the Automatic Pre-Scheduling System (SAPA) through computer systems and “founded suspicions of the capture of vacancies by individuals, based on orders of packages of services that include the scheduling and preparation of the request to be presented”.

In a reply now sent to Lusa, SEF highlighted that this investigation took place at the Central Investigation Department of SEF, with several procedural steps being taken.

“However, they did not allow us to confirm the suspicions of the crime of aiding illegal immigration, nor of crimes of a computer-related nature”, said that security service.

SEF highlights that, after these suspicions, “some measures were taken to safeguard the normal work of the computer system for appointments, namely the conditional release of appointments and the activation of the ‘reCAPTCHA’ functionality on the portal’s authentication page”.

Regarding the service to the public, which was suspended between 13 February and 16 April due to the state of emergency decreed because of Covid-19, this security service reports that around 41,400 citizens were notified for new times after the appointments have been cancelled.

According to SEF, 10,000 appointments were made this year for the granting of a residence permit and, until 30 September, approximately 20,000 appointments are scheduled for this purpose.

The security service requires that the appointments for attending immigrants who have processes pending at SEF are “fully filled by 30 October” and there is no forecast of opening new vacancies.