The Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) is no more, as on Oct. 29 it’s getting replaced by the Agency for Integration, Migrations and Asylum (AIMA).
It’s not going to be an easy start with 327,000 pending applications: in 2022, SEF only managed to grant residency to 143,081 people, according to Público.
The backlog is not surprising given the rapid rise in Portugal’s popularity for everyone from Sri Lankans to Americans in the past decade. According to Público, SEF only issued a little over 35,000 residency permits in 2014.
What’s surprising is the fact that SEF workers at the agency’s various outlets have not resigned en masse and continue doing often pointless, demeaning work and maintain their civility with angrier and angrier immigrants. I once stood pleading to email a PDF, or have it read from my portable USB drive, of an 80-page package of documents as the poor clerk who had the misfortune of getting me as his customer scanned all those pages — not automatically! He fed each page by hand, one by one! — and the man never once lost his temper and smiled and shook my hand when we were finally done.
SEF has only become worse since then.
There are now countless accounts of residents being unable to accomplish, for months and in some cases years, the simplest tasks that one would think should be easy enough to handle automatically with a basic online form, such as a change of address, but is not possible because it can only be done via phone — except, as anyone knows, SEF doesn’t pick up phone calls.
If you thought, “What about email?” you’ve clearly never dealt with SEF.
The situation has been far, far worse for those still seeking residency, which are obviously often people in precarious situations and not just wealthy pensioners.
Those issues are likely not going away unless AIMA gets significantly more resources, and we don’t mean more staplers.