SEF combats golden visa delays by accepting submissions regardless of location

The SEF announced this month that 12 of its regional offices would begin accepting submissions from Portugal golden visa applicants regardless of region. But with numerous other factors causing significant processing delays, will this change be enough to reduce the current backlog?

For investors who have spent at least €500,000 purchasing property in Portugal, they must first arrange an initial meeting with the SEF to begin processing their golden visa application. The Portuguese Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) handles all immigration issues and has a number of offices across the country.

Previously, applicants could only arrange an appointment with the SEF office situated in the same region in which they have purchased property. This had placed continual pressure on SEF’s offices – particularly in Lisbon since it is one of the most popular areas for real estate investment in Portugal.

Thanks to the capital’s thriving property market where house prices increased by a massive 35% in the four-year period to 2016, and prime city centre real estate is just a quarter of the price of comparable properties in London, Lisbon is the ideal gateway to European citizenship for foreign investors.

But with no appointments available with the SEF more than three months in advance, no waiting list system in effect, and no announcement made when new appointments are released, golden visa applicants are left with little choice but to contact SEF every day in hopes of securing an appointment.

Once appointments are released, due to overwhelming demand they are often filled the same day as they become available – sometimes within just an hour or two. There are currently no available appointments left for the remainder of 2017.

In a bid to make these initial appointments more accessible to golden visa candidates, the SEF has launched a pilot project at a dozen of its regional offices. These select offices including Porto, Faro and Coimbra will accept residence permit submissions irrespective of the location of the applicant’s property investment.

By trialling this, the SEF hopes to begin accepting submissions from golden residence permit candidates more swiftly. Although speeding up this process is a welcome improvement to the programme, applicants will continue to experience delays unless the procedure for processing the permit is also made more efficient.

The SEF’s legal team confirmed that it is currently struggling to clear a backlog of around 4,000 pending cases. These delays have been widely blamed on staff shortages, increased process complexity, and the ever-increasing popularity of the golden residence programme.

Reports from newspaper Diário de Notícias suggest that many specialist staff were sent to Lisbon airport from SEF offices in spring, which has caused waiting times across the board to increase further.