Government dissolves borders and immigration agency SEF and creates new organisation
The Portuguese Government has announced it will dissolve its current boarders and immigration agency SEF. (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF)
In its place it will create the new Agency for Minorities, Migrations and Asylum (APMMA). The measure was approved at a meeting of the Council of Ministers this week and the changeover should be completed “over the next six months”.
The new agency will absorb 680 staff from SEF according to the Adjunct Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Ana Catarina Mendes in a press conference held on Thursday.
The renewals of Portuguese residency permits held by overseas citizens will now become the responsibility of the Institute of Registers and Notaries (IRN) with some SEF staff being transferred to that institution.
At the start of this year, a Decree-Law was passed that defined the restructuring of SEF, with the transfer of its responsibilities to five different bodies. The Portuguese Minister for Home Affairs, José Luís Carneiro said that SEF would continue its normal functions until World Youth Day which will be held in Lisbon in the first week of August from 1-6 – well beyond the initial dissolution date of March 31.
The Government took the decision to dissolve SEF because it was simply overloaded, understaffed, and didn’t work – a conclusion borne out by the thousands of complaints over the years.
The border service’s tarnished image and reputation has not been a good advert for the recent wave of affluent Brazilian, French, US and UK relocaters who have applied for D7 and Golden Visas over the past three years, and whose lawyers have faced long queues and mountains of red tape.
The institution also fell into discredit over accusations of abuses of power and authority, allegations of corruption by officials in return for legalising immigrants by illegal means.
Then there were the complaints of Golden Visa investors who had invested a minimum of €500,000 in Portugal, and whose applications were often kept in an ever increasing ‘in-tray’ with huge processing delays.
There were also problems over Golden Visa renewals, their applications taking so long, even though they were delivered by holders well before the cutoff date for the expiry of their documents, that quite a few investors were not allowed into the country, or faced long delays at passport control because the visas had expired.
And then who could forget the case of Miguel Macedo, a former Home Office minister who was embroiled in a scandal involving corruption, gifts and Golden Visas in 2014. He resigned that year as a consequence of Operation Labyrinth. Macedo was accused in 2015 of prevarication and trafficking influence by the Portuguese Public Ministry over the Golden Visas – an accusation which was lifted in January 2019 when Macedo was absolved of all crimes, but not before the head of the SEF director at the time had rolled.
But the final blow to the institution’s good name and reputation was a case that shocked the nation – the death of a Ukrainian national at the hands of SEF airport immigration officers after being severely beaten. Three inspectors were accused of homicide and flagrant abuse of power and authority. They were found guilty.
“We are definitively separating the police services on the one hand and a service with a vision to welcome and integrate (immigrants) in this new agency” said Ana Catarina Mendes. The APMMA will also replace the High Commission for Migrations.
“The new agency will also have responsibilities for humanitarian protection and asylum, more in line with European Union policies”, said the minister, insisting that Portugal’s migrations policy would have a more humanist vision, be more cooperative, providing a more agile service for those arriving in Portugal.
“Many of the responsibilities of SEF will continue to be carried out by the new agency, with a closer and grass roots cooperation and area of action across the entire country”, she said.
Portugal’s Home Affairs Minister, José Luís Carneiro (*See Recommended) who was also present at the press conference held after the Council of Ministers meeting, said that SEF inspectors would collaborate with the PSP Police and GNR police at airports and seaports for the next two years as part of the restructuring of the body.
The press conference was held at the embarrassing time when SEF staff went on strike, resulting in 90% of service points being closed, while staff said they had been kept in the dark over the dissolution process.
Artur Girão, president of the SINSEF union of foreigners and borders service employees said: “It’s very easy for the government to say that immigration is strategic for the country, but it has to reflect this on the public services that provide an immigration service, namely with the workers that deal with documental issues”, he added.
“We want to have better conditions to receive (immigrants), and this is what we expect (APMA) to bring (…) For a percentage of workers, the future is uncertain. They don’t know where they will work”, he stressed.
The union claims that, after three meetings with the government, delegates have still not seen final documents of the winding up process, hence the strike which ended yesterday. (Thursday, April 6)