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Recent Overhaul of Portugal's Immigration Laws: A Comprehensive Transformation

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In recent years, as is widely recognized, Portugal has risen to prominence on the international stage, becoming a preferred destination for investors, digital nomads and other migrant groups. Many different factors have contributed to this rediscovery and this phenomenon has unleashed a large wave of migration to the country.

In addition to this scenario, the delays that already existed before 2020 and the many challenges imposed by the actions to contain the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in the entry and residence system in Portugal taking longer, revealing various procedural and systemic weaknesses in the migration processes in Portugal. The lack of human resources and insufficient resources were, among other things, felt most acutely, especially when it came to guaranteeing and enforcing the rights recognized in immigration legislation.

In 2021, it was announced for the first time that the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF), a security service within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, created in 1986, would be abolished. Its mission, among others, was to ensure the control of people at borders and foreigners in national territory. After a series of comings and goings, SEF was only gradually phased out in the course of 2023.

The year 2023 was marked by a genuine systemic restructuring in the field of immigration, with the aim of achieving greater efficiency in the processes for granting visas and residence permits in the country. In this text, we highlight the main legislative and regulatory acts that had a significant impact on immigration:

At the very beginning of 2023, Government Order no. 97/2023 of 28 February was published, approving the model administrative residence permit under the Agreement on Mobility between the Member States of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP). This permit formalizes the granting of residence in national territory to CPLP citizens based on the commitment made by the Portuguese state in 2022, through Assembly of the Republic Resolution no. 313/2021 of 9 December, and following the requirements imposed by Law no. 18/2022 of 25 August, which amended the Legal Regime for the Entry, Stay, Exit and Removal of Foreigners from National Territory, approved by Law no. 23/2007 of 4 July. It is, therefore, a provisional instrument that has allowed the regularization of thousands of people who had submitted an expression of interest (to obtain a residence permit to carry out a professional activity) but were still waiting for the respective processes to be analyzed and/or concluded. 

A lot of controversy - and dissatisfaction - has (subsequently) resulted from this measure, since this administrative permit is not a residence permit in accordance with the uniform model established by Council Regulation (EC) 1030/2002 of June 2002, and therefore does not allow its holders to move within the Schengen area. Due to this scenario, the European Commission initiated a non-compliance procedure against Portugal (INFR(2023)4012), according to the information available here.

In June, Decree-Law no. 41/2023 of 2 June was adopted, creating the Agency for Integration, Migration and Asylum, I. P. (AIMA, I. P.), and Decree-Law no. 40/2023 of 2 June, which approved the transition regime for employees of the Aliens and Borders Service.

In July, Order no. 7756/2023 of 27 July appointed the chairman and four members of the AIMA, I.P. board of directors for a five-year term, renewable once for the same period.

August saw the publication of Law no. 41/2023 of 10 August, which enshrines the status of stateless persons, and Law no. 53/2023, of 31 August, which transposes Directive (EU) 2021/1883 on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of highly qualified employment.

October was a month of much legislative and executive production. Law no. 56/2023 of   October was published, already amended by Law no. 82/2023 of 29 December, which approves measures in the field of housing and makes several legislative changes, culminating in the revocation of the granting of residence permits for investment by the mere transfer of capital and the purchase of real estate. Also, Government Order no. 307/2023 of 13 October was published, approving the table of fees and other charges due for the administrative procedures inherent to the granting of visas at border posts, the extension of stay in national territory, the issuing of travel documents, the granting and renewal of residence permits, and the practice of other acts related to the entry and stay of foreigners in national territory. Decree-Law no. 99-A/2023 of 27 October approves the organizational structure of the Unit for the Coordination of Borders and Foreigners (UCFE), and Government Order 324-A/2023 of 27 October approves the statutes of AIMA, I.P.

In November, Government Order no. 361/2023 of 15 November was published, defining the fees and other charges due for the administrative procedures inherent in the granting, production, personalization and delivery of the Portuguese electronic passport and temporary passport, the rules for remuneration of the services provided by Imprensa Nacional-Casa da Moeda, S. A., the deadlines for delivery of passports and the rules for allocating the revenue from the fees collected. Ministerial Order no. 378/2023 of 17 November, was also published, approving the table of fees to be charged by the National Republican Guard (GNR) at maritime border posts. In addition, Regulatory Decree no. 4/2023 of 21 November adapts the organic structure of the GNR to the new duties transferred as part of the process of restructuring the Portuguese border control system, and Decree-Law no. 109/2023 of 24 November extends various deadlines for temporary legal regimes, namely Article 16 of Decree-Law no. 10-A/2020 of 13 March, which extends until 30 June 2024 the validity of documents and visas relating to residence in national territory that expire on the date of entry into force of the aforementioned decree-law or in the 15 days immediately preceding it.

In the last month of the year, Government Order no. 793/2023 of 11 December was published, authorizing the Public Security Police (PSP) to take on the budgetary costs of acquiring security and protection services for temporary installation centers (CIT) or similar spaces (EECIT) and the facility that houses the Airport Security and Border Control Organic Unit.

Beginning in 2024, Regulatory Decree no. 1/2024 of 17 January makes the seventh amendment to Regulatory Decree no. 84/2007 of 5 November, which regulates the legal regime for the entry, stay, exit and removal of foreign citizens from national territory, established by Law no. 23/2007 of 4 July. The aforementioned Regulatory Decree promotes the updating of regulations for the restructuring of SEF, with a promise to "modernize and simplify administrative procedures with a view to ensuring that AIMA, I.P., can examine and decide on cases relating to the stay of foreign citizens in the national territory in a timely manner and with increased security requirements".

We from FiO Legal's immigration team will be carrying out a detailed analysis of the amendments to the Regulatory Decree of the Immigration Act, which will be shared with our community very soon.

Informative article by Emellin de Oliveira and Lidiane de Carvalho.

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