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Out with SEF, in with AIMA: Unveiling the Transformations in this Guide!

Updated: Mar 25

Various institutions will assume the police and administrative roles previously held by SEF, including the newly established AIMA.

SEF Portugal

The dissolving of the Immigration and Borders Service (SEF-Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras) has sparked intense debate over the past couple of years, culminating in its parliamentary approval for closure. The official abolishment occurred on 29th October, leading to the redistribution of SEF's law enforcement and administrative duties among various other institutions. Notably, the recently established Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum (AIMA) will play a pivotal role in processing residence permit applications for foreign nationals entering Portugal and beyond. Discover the operational mechanisms of these successor institutions as explained by experts.

NIF Portugal

Is the abolition of SEF and the beginning of AIMA truly confirmed?

Indeed, the Immigration and Borders Service (SEF) met its end on October 29th at 00:00. The restructuring of SEF was initially determined by the former government and received parliamentary approval in November 2021, despite being postponed on two occasions.

What entities will assume the responsibilities formerly held by SEF?

Simultaneously with the abolishment of SEF, the recently established Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum (AIMA) assumed its functions, believed by many to be a replacement for SEF.

However, this transition marks the involvement of several institutions that will share responsibilities previously held solely by SEF.

Law enforcement duties will now be divided among the Public Security Police (PSP), the National Republican Guard (GNR), and the Judicial Police (PJ). Meanwhile, administrative tasks concerning foreign citizens will be under the jurisdiction of the Institute of Registry and Notaries (IRN) alongside the newly formed Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum (AIMA).

To ensure effective coordination among these services, experts highlight the creation of the Border and Immigration Coordination Unit (Unidade de Coordenação de Fronteiras e Estrangeiros-UCFE), which will operate within the Internal Security System (Sistema de Segurança Interna-SSI).

Who is responsible for passports and renewing residence permits?

Following the restructuring, 75 SEF employees are slated for relocation to the Institute of Registry and Notaries (Instituto de Registo e Notariado-IRN) to establish a central hub for face-to-face services and decision-making. The IRN inherits critical responsibilities, chiefly:

  1. Handling Portuguese Electronic Passports: This includes ordinary, special, temporary, and passports for foreign citizens.

  2. Facilitating Renewal of Residence Permits: Renewal services for temporary and permanent foreign residents, excluding victims of human trafficking and those for investment purposes, will be managed by IRN. AIMA will handle these specific cases.

Renewal appointments for residence permits can be scheduled through the SIGA booking portal and the Siga App application. Furthermore, there will be an expansion in service accessibility, with 34 registry offices and the mentioned Citizens' Shops serving as additional service points.

To initiate the process for new residence permits, where should foreigners go?

AIMA Portal

Foreigners intending to apply for new residence permits should head to the Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum (AIMA). This agency is tasked with managing administrative affairs concerning foreign individuals in Portugal, such as residence permits and refugees. It has taken over immigrant welcoming and integration responsibilities from the High Commission for Migration (ACM), Despite the absence of content on AIMA's newly launched website, information will eventually be made available there.

The government has officially declared that AIMA will prioritize substantial investment in digital infrastructure and recruit an additional 190 staff members. Additionally, within a year, it plans to introduce at least 10 new branches, complementing the existing 34 locations.

Here are the key initiatives unveiled by the Socialist Executive:

AIMA Portal: Scheduled for launch by year-end, it will initially cater to family reunification requests, eliminating the need for current telephone appointments.

NIF Portugal

A mega operation to recover the 347,000 pending cases: an operation involving local authorities, professional associations, and employees of the Local Support Centres for the Integration of Migrants.

Resolution timeline for 347,000 pending migrant legalization applications?

We still don't know for sure. The idea is to prioritize the AIMA legalization processes. Ana Catarina Mendes, Deputy Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and director of AIMA was quoted in the newspaper Público saying "We're going to launch a mega-operation to clear the backlog of applications for residency from migrants by the end of March".

However, according to the known data, there are expected to be 600,000 cases pending legalization or renewal of temporary licenses by March 2024. This is because there are 347,000 overdue migrant legalization applications, added to the 199,000 one-year temporary visa renewals given to migrants from the CPLP and a further 53,000 temporary visas given to Ukrainian citizens, according to the same newspaper.

On the other hand, Luís Góis Pinheiro, president of AIMA, said that the agency's goal is to respond to the almost 350,000 pending immigrant legalization cases inherited by SEF within a year and a half, writes TSF.

What are the intended functions of the newly established Borders and Immigration Coordination Unit?

The recently formed Borders and Immigration Coordination Unit (UCFE) will take on the role of overseeing the services previously handled by SEF, now dispersed among other entities, leading some to nickname it a "Mini-SEF." However, the UCFE will possess a range of authorities and duties.

  • Border control: its mission is to ensure uniform compliance with technical standards and procedures when controlling the entry, stay, and exit of people at borders;

  • Centralization of information: it will gather information on the entry, stay and exit of people on national territory, trafficking in human beings, aiding illegal immigration and other crimes linked to irregular immigration;

  • Police information management: it will record and update police and criminal information relating to foreigners and issue information on foreigners in irregular situations;

  • Security information: it will issue security information and opinions for the granting and renewal of documents, recognize rights, grant nationality to foreigners and issue passports. This information will help assess threats to internal security, public order and safety and in the prevention of illegal immigration and related crimes;

  • Database management: it will manage police databases and information systems, including the Single Point of Contact (SPC), (Ponto Único de Contacto-PUC), which includes Interpol and Europol, and all the databases that used to belong to SEF.


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