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Government plans to shake up the Foreigners and Borders Service’s immigration process

The government has announced plans to revamp Portugal’s Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) in an effort to cut back on the hellish bureaucracy that haunts the process, as well as improving conditions for immigrants to the country. This also includes possible changes to the “golden visa” scheme.

One of the SEF’s proposed changes is to clarify a “very clear” separation between its policing and administrative functions when it comes to the documentation of immigrants.

“Without prejudice to a determined action in combating human trafficking networks, or in the prevention of terrorism, we must reconfigure the way in which public services deal with the phenomenon, adopting a more humanistic and less bureaucratic approach.”

The government want to make to change the service with the aim of “regular and orderly attraction of labour for the performance of functions in different sectors of activity,” the programme states. “To this end, the Government will establish a very clear separation between the police functions and the administrative functions relating to the authorisation and documentation of immigrants.”

Making it clear that Portugal needs the “contribution of immigration” for its economic and demographic development, as many skilled young Portuguese workers have fled to greener EU pastures, the government wants to include several measures to attract foreigners to the country and simplify procedures. It aims to create “channels of migration” from countries of origin and ensure that immigrants “do not become undocumented or on the margins of the system”.

With that in mind, they want to simplify entry procedures, eliminating the existing quota regime whilst bringing forward a short-term temporary residence permit that allows the legal entry of immigrants to look for jobs. They also want to streamline the mechanisms for regularising residential status, as well as implementing programmes for the regularisation of foreign nationals.

Furthermore, immigration officials have revealed that they want to review the scheme for fast-tracking residence permits for big investors, commonly known as “golden visas”, which they want to “direct preferentially to low-density regions, to investment in job creation and to urban renewal and cultural heritage.”

Over their four year legislature, the government also aims to look at the possible introduction of a “foreign citizen’s card similar to the citizen’s card used by Portuguese nationals, dispensing with duplication in the presentation of documents issued by public entities.”

In terms of immigration from Portuguese-speaking countries, the government also wants to create an area of free movement and settlement among countries that a part of the Community of Portuguese-Language Countries (CPLP), and launch programmes to promote the hiring of qualified staff and entrepreneurs in the fields of technology and high added value, as well as to foster programmes to support foreign students and researchers at Portuguese higher education institutions, particularly in the country’s interior.

The programme, approved last Saturday in the Assembly of the Republic, is however similar in many ways to the previous Socialist Party’s programme. The main changes lie in the fact that the recently unveiled shake-up does not follow the traditional thematic organisation by ministries that has characterised programmes issued by previous governments.