The problems related to issuing and renewing golden visas at the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) seem to have no end in sight. Delays in scheduling – a necessary step to obtain a Residence Permit for Investment (ARI) – skyrocketed after the pandemic, with one investor even having to wait 18 months for a meeting with the SEF. Now, dozens of foreign investors are taking cases relating to delays in obtaining a golden visa to court and so far SEF has lost 18 cases, according to a report by idealista.
The controversies surrounding SEF continue. The ARI platform was frozen between January and mid-June, preventing foreigners from submitting their applications for golden visas. In June, the ARI platform was operational again. But problems at SEF continued. The issue turned to delays in scheduling appointments to obtain golden visas, which can take up to two years when the law provides for a period of 90 days.
Scheduling with the SEF is a necessary step to obtain the golden visa, appearing after the application for the program has been previously approved by the specialists of that entity. At this stage, the legally required documentation is delivered and the biometric data of foreign investors is collected. But, for this to be possible, they must arrange a meeting with the SEF.
With scheduling deadlines slipping and vacancies becoming scarce, a British investor decided to take SEF to court with the help of lawyer Bettino Zanini, an immigration specialist. The case was filed with the court on April 11, 2022. And, in July, the lawyer received the judge's final decision: SEF would have to analyse and decide on his client's request for golden visas and, if the application fulfilled all the required criteria, it would have to make an appointment available to the investor within 10 days, the lawyer told idealista/news. Today, the British investor is waiting for the final approval of the process.
But this is not a unique case. SEF has already lost a total of 18 court cases caused by delays in scheduling to obtain golden visas. And there are even more cases under analysis by the Portuguese justice system. "63 cases were filed in the courts, requesting the scheduling/granting/renewal of residence permits for investment", said the SEF quoted by CNN Portugal. Lawyer Bettino Zanini has already won four cases and is waiting for the decision of another five.
To book appointments with SEF, foreign investors have to look at the vacancies made available by the platform. The point is that, after the pandemic, vacancies became scarce. And now, investors with approved gold visa applications wait months before receiving an email to schedule an appointment. “Waiting times between approval and scheduling have increased considerably,” Bettino told idealista/news.
After the application is analysed by SEF specialists and receives the green light, the entity must indicate which dates are available to schedule the appointment (the next step). Here, the law provides for 60 working days, that is, 90 days in a row, although there are cases in which an extension of the period is allowed due to the need for additional data, for example. But, according to the lawyer, this process took 18 months after the pandemic.
It is within the deadlines provided for in the law for appointments that the courts have based favourable decisions for foreign investors who, after making large investments in the country (mostly in real estate), want to obtain gold visas quickly. The decision of the courts is therefore due to the fact that "SEF's delay in these processes, often exceeding one year for each phase, is not legal", explained the lawyer.
By taking these cases to court, Bettino Zanini wants “things to get better. All lawyers experience the same difficulty and receive the frustration of clients who trusted a program, within a reasonable period of time and, after a year and two months, are still stuck in the first stage and with no prospect of seeing the situation resolved”, he concluded.