Portugal made significant changes to their immigration service, bidding farewell to the Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF), the agency responsible for handling foreign documents.
To replace SEF, Portugal has created the Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum (AIMA) to enhance efficiency and tackle longstanding backlogs of foreign documents.
This article breaks down what this shift means, what AIMA does, how to handle residence permits and passport renewals from now on, and the fate of SEF facilities.
From SEF to AIMA: Understanding the Transition
Was SEF Truly Extinguished?
Yes, the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) was officially dissolved on October 29, 2023. The discontinuation of SEF marks a significant milestone in Portugal’s immigration landscape. Established in 2007, SEF was responsible for managing the administrative aspects of foreign nationals, including document issuance, residence permits, and visa extensions. The decision to eliminate SEF aligns with the government’s overarching efforts to streamline immigration services.
When was the SEF Closure Decision Made?
The Assembly of the Republic ratified the end of SEF on October 22, 2021.
Who Will Succeed SEF?
The functions of SEF have been redistributed to seven entities: the Public Security Police (PSP), the Republican National Guard (GNR), and the Judiciary Police (PJ), alongside the Institute of Registration and Notary (IRN) and the Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum (AIMA).
This restructuring forms part of the government’s strategy to divide police responsibilities and streamline the approval of immigrant documents to enhance efficiency.
What is AIMA?
One of the entities replacing SEF is AIMA, the Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum. Endowed with a budget of 81 million euros and a workforce of 740 employees, AIMA is embarking on an ambitious mission to address the backlog of approximately 347,000 pending immigration cases and 340,000 visa renewals by year-end. This transition is expected to create a more streamlined and efficient system, benefiting both residents and foreign nationals seeking services.
AIMA is entrusted with the management of all matters pertaining to foreign documents, residence permits, and visa renewals in Portugal. The agency’s central mission is to facilitate integration, migration, and asylum processes in the country. AIMA seeks to establish a large-scale operation to expedite pending cases and bolster security associated with document issuance. Additionally, a permanent audit team will be in place to ensure that internal procedures maintain the highest standards and to combat and prevent fraud.
It’s important to note that AIMA is just one of several institutions that have assumed responsibilities previously managed by SEF.
How to Apply for Residence Permits or Passport Renewals Now?
Foreign nationals residing in Portugal who require new residence permits or passport renewals should now direct their applications to AIMA, the agency responsible for administrative functions related to foreign citizens in Portugal.
The issuance of Portuguese electronic passports, including regular, special, temporary, and foreign citizens’ passports, will be handled by the Institute of Registration and Notary (IRN).
IRN will also manage the renewal of residence permits, both temporary and permanent, except in cases involving victims of human trafficking and investment-related purposes, which fall under AIMA’s purview. 75 non-police personnel from SEF have been transferred to IRN.
Where to Apply for New Residence Permits?
Foreigners seeking to apply for new residence permits or engage in immigration-related administrative procedures should now direct their inquiries and applications to AIMA. As the new agency assumes the responsibilities formerly held by SEF, it will serve as the primary point of contact for foreign nationals in Portugal.
The government has formally announced AIMA’s substantial investment in digital infrastructure and the recruitment of an additional 190 employees. Alongside the existing 34 service counters, at least ten new branches are set to open within a year. The key measures announced by the government include the launch of the AIMA Portal, set to be operational by year-end, beginning with requests for family reunification, eliminating the need for telephone scheduling.
A mega operation aimed at resolving the 347 thousand pending cases will be launched, involving local authorities, professional organizations, and employees of the Local Support Centers for the Integration of Migrants.
AIMA’s headquarters will be situated on Avenida António Augusto de Aguiar in Lisbon, occupying a nine-story building that ensures efficient operations and proximity to migrants, given its central location in Lisbon.
Roles of GNR, PSP, and PJ
The Republican National Guard (GNR) will be responsible for monitoring, inspecting, and controlling maritime and land borders, including cruise terminals. The GNR Coastal Control Unit will be renamed the GNR Coastal and Border Control Unit.
The Public Security Police (PSP) will monitor, inspect, and control airport borders and manage temporary facilities at airports. Within PSP, the Organic Airport Security and Border Control Unit has been established to oversee people entering and leaving the country by air and ensure airport security.
The Judiciary Police (PJ) will take charge of investigating illegal immigration and human trafficking.
The Borders and Foreigners Coordination Unit
Termed “mini-SEF,” the Borders and Foreigners Coordination Unit will operate under the leadership of the secretary general of the Internal Security System, Paulo Vizeu Pinheiro. This unit will coordinate actions between various police forces, IRN, and AIMA, fostering cooperation and coordination regarding people’s movement, return, and border control. The unit will also manage police databases and information systems related to borders, foreign, and international police cooperation.
The Future of SEF Facilities
With SEF ceasing operations, the facilities previously dedicated to this agency are undergoing a transformation. Offices across the country will transition to the purview of the new responsible services. Nevertheless, the specific fate of the SEF headquarters in Porto Salvo, Oeiras municipality, Lisbon district, remains undisclosed. It is likely that these facilities will be repurposed or integrated into other government functions.
In summary, Portugal’s dissolution of SEF and the introduction of AIMA signify a significant shift in the country’s approach to immigration services. AIMA’s ambitious plans and emphasis on streamlining processes aim to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of immigration services for both residents and foreign nationals. However, during this transitional period, some delays may be expected, so applicants should be prepared for potential adjustments as AIMA takes on its new responsibilities.
Frequently Asked Questions about AIMA taking over SEF
Is SEF Portugal disbanded?
Yes. As of October 29, 2023, Portugal dissolved the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) on Sunday. All matters concerning foreign documents will be handled by the newly created Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum (AIMA).
What is happening to SEF in Portugal?
Portugal dissolved the Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF). The powers of this security service will be transferred to seven bodies. The change aims to streamline immigration services and address longstanding backlogs.
Who will replace SEF?
The government of Portugal will replace SEF with the Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum (AIMA). AIMA will handle administrative tasks concerning foreign citizens in Portugal, including residence permits and refugee matters.
Is the SEF changing?
SEF was abolished on October 29, 2023, and replaced by the new Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum (AIMA).
What is AIMA in Portugal?
Agency for Integration, Migrations and Asylum (AIMA) was created to replace SEF and the High Commission for Migrations, which was also abolished.
AIMA is responsible for administrative tasks related to foreign citizens in Portugal, namely residence permits and refugee matters.