The SEF (Serviços de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras), or the Foreigners and Borders Service, has officially ended, after the announcement of its reformation back in 2021. The Agência para a Integração, Migrações e Asilo (AIMA) is now the official entity taking care of migration and integration issues in Portugal. Let’s look into why this happened and what it can bring.
The powers previously held by the SEF will now be transferred to seven different bodies. Security will be transferred to the PSP, GNR and PJ (Portuguese authorities) while the administrative functions related to foreign citizens will be transferred to the new agency and the Institute of Registration and Notaries (IRN). There will also be a Borders and Foreigners Coordination Unit, which will operate under the Secretary General of the Internal Security System, while some inspectors will also be transferred to the Portuguese Tax Authority.
The separation of police activity from migration and visa activities in the SEF was already foreseen in the program of the previous government, but it was only after the death of an Ukrainian citizen at the SEF facilities at the Lisbon airport, in 2020, that the extinction of the SEF started being publicly discussed. The official end of the service was approved by the Portuguese Parliament on October 22, 2021.
The decision was then continuously delayed, until finally, on October 29, 2023 – more than two years later – it was officialized.
There are 1,708 workers, 1,043 of whom are inspectors and 665 are non-police officers. The non-police staff will go to AIMA (Agency for Integration, Migration and Asylum) and to the Institute of Registry and Notaries (IRN).
Police Inspectors will be transferred to the Polícia Judiciária (Portuguese criminal investigation police), with some staying temporarily with the PSP and GNR. There are also inspectors who may go to the Tax Authority, AIMA and the Borders and Foreigners Coordination Unit.
The PSP will be responsible for monitoring, inspecting and controlling airport borders, as well as managing the temporary installation centers at airports, while the GNR will be responsible for monitoring, inspecting and controlling sea and land borders, including cruise terminals. The PJ will gird itself to investigating illegal immigration and human trafficking.
Responsibility will now pass into the hands of the Borders and Foreigners Coordination Unit (Unidade de Coordenação de Fronteiras e Estrangeiros or UCFE), which will operate under the Secretary-General of the Internal Security System, Paulo Vizeu Pinheiro, and will be headed by a general coordinator, whose name is not yet known, and initially made up of SEF personnel, essentially inspectors.
The new body, already dubbed the “mini-SEF“, is responsible for inheriting part of the functions of the SEF and aims to meet existing needs and avoid gaps, constraints or disruptions.
According to the Internal Security System, this unit will work “in close functional and technical coordination with the security forces and services”, including the previously mentioned PSP, GNR, PJ, AIMA and IRN.
The Agency for Integration, Migration and Asylum will succeed SEF and the High Commission for Migration, which will also be abolished. AIMA will be responsible for administrative matters relating to foreign citizens in Portugal – namely residence permits, visa processes and refugees – inheriting around 300,000 pending immigrant legalization cases from SEF.
The SEF was abolished and had its services divided with the intention of making Portuguese migration better. Meaning that, gradually, you can expect SEF’s problems to diminish – such as the long waiting times to get documentation and to book meetings.
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