End of SEF: How to Renew Residence Permit in 2024

29 de May, 2024

End of SEF: How to Renew Residence Permit in 2024

Portugal now has a new immigration agency. But what changes in practice? How to renew the residence permit from now on?
mão com carimbo a Renovar Autorizacao de residencia
Reading: 7 min

Portugal now has a new immigration agency. The SEF – Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (Foreigners and Borders Service) has been replaced by AIMA – Agência para a Integração, Migrações e Asilo (Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum). But what has changed in practice? How do you renew your residence permit from now on?

Only time will tell the real practical effects of this change for the more than 800,000 foreigners currently residing in the country. What we know so far is that AIMA has taken on the role of immigrant regularization with the aim of modernizing systems, reducing bureaucracy in obtaining the much-desired residence permit, and making the entire process faster by creating digital tools for various situations. In practice, however, there is still a long way to go.

We answer the remaining questions in this article. Read below to learn everything known about this change so far.

And if you need help with your relocation process to Portugal, contact Atlantic Bridge!

Lisboa cidade com maior quantidade de imigrantes que buscam renovação de autorização de residencia
Lisbon has the largest immigrant population in the country: 65% of the total.

SEF is gone?

Yes. Created in 1974, the SEF was officially dissolved on October 29, 2023, giving way to AIMA, the Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum.

The Portuguese border control system was restructured, redistributing all activities previously under SEF’s jurisdiction among AIMA, the IRN (Institute of Registries and Notaries), the GNR (National Republican Guard), the PSP (Public Security Police), the PJ (Judiciary Police), and other agencies. Most former SEF employees were transferred to AIMA, though some were reassigned to other agencies. Currently, the activities are divided as follows:

  • PSP (Public Security Police), GNR (National Republican Guard), and PJ (Judiciary Police): Police functions, such as investigating immigration-related crimes and border enforcement.
  • AIMA (Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum): Administrative functions related to foreign citizens, such as granting new residence permits, providing opinions on visa applications (including family reunification), expressions of interest, as well as asylum and refugee settlement.
  • IRN (Institute of Registries and Notaries): Responsible for renewing residence permits and issuing Portuguese passports.

Why did the SEF end?

The SEF had been the target of numerous complaints over the years, including delays in processes, communication issues, and backlog of requests. It was not operating with the desired efficiency, and worse, the agency faced allegations of corruption and abuse of power in the legalization of immigrants.

The case of Ihor Homenyuk, a Ukrainian immigrant who died while in SEF custody, was a shocking event that is said to have significantly contributed to the final decision to dissolve SEF. Three inspectors are currently facing charges of homicide and abuse of power.

Do you want to live in Europe?

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Who handles residence permits now?

The administrative responsibilities in matters of immigrant regularization, migration, and asylum, such as the analysis, granting, and processing of new residence permits, have been transferred to AIMA, which serves users at the same administrative agencies previously used by the now-defunct SEF.

The reception of documents for the renewal of residence permits has become the responsibility of the IRN – Institute of Registries and Notaries, as informed by an IRN agent.

Renew Residence Permit in Portugal: AIMA or SEF?

For most cases, the procedure for renewing a Residence Permit (AR) remains as it was before, being carried out digitally, as per the law, through the portal of the now-defunct SEF (www.sef.pt), using a login and password. It is important to note that although the website of the former Foreigners and Borders Service is still functional, it is likely to be deactivated soon, with the renewal functionality moving to the AIMA website, which is live but not yet fully operational.

Online Renew Residence Card Portugal : Sef Automatic Renewal

Each quarter, the SEF website offers the possibility of automatic renewal for recently expired permits or those nearing the end of their validity. Currently, at the end of May 2024, the site is allowing the automatic renewal of residence permits that expire by June 30, 2024.

While it is generally stipulated by the law that dissolved SEF, the renewal service through the IRN is only being used for cases where automatic renewal is not possible.

Apparently, the IRN does not yet have all the necessary infrastructure and training to handle the large volume of services required. Therefore, the government has opted to keep the old SEF electronic platform active, operating as it has in recent years.

At the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024, the IRN included on its website and in the “Siga” App (https://siga.marcacaodeatendimento.pt/ , which allows online appointment scheduling for various public services), the option to schedule in-person appointments for residence permit renewal. However, this functionality was soon removed, and the IRN is currently sending text messages (SMS) to some temporary residence permit holders to schedule appointments.

I Have a Visa: How to Apply for a Residence Permit?

For those holding a visa in Portugal and needing to apply for their first residence permit, the process remains unchanged. An interview at AIMA is required, which must be pre-scheduled. This is usually done by the Consulate where the visa was issued or by calling (+351) 217 115 000 or (+351) 965 903 700, available on weekdays from 8 am to 8 pm.

Since the creation of AIMA, however, very few new appointment slots have been made available, which is one of the biggest challenges faced by immigrants seeking to regularize their status in Portugal. This issue has been frequently covered by various newspapers, as reported by JN and SIC.

I had an appointment scheduled with SEF. What should I do?

Regarding the granting of Residence Permits by the new Agency, it should be clarified that appointments made with SEF are still valid, and the procedure for the application remains the same. It is important to check your email regularly, as any potential changes are usually communicated through the provided email address.

Residence Permit: Family Reunification for Children

As announced on the AIMA website, nationals of third countries residing legally in Portugal, who have children between the ages of 5 and 15 in their household and wish to apply for family reunification in Portugal under Article 98(2) of Law No. 23/2007, of July 4, in its current wording, can currently submit their request through the digital/online channel.

As the range of requests that can be submitted in digital format is expanded, the criteria will be widely disseminated on AIMA platforms.

For requests submitted in digital/online format, proof of the necessary situations to obtain the Residence Permit can be provided using digitally signed documents with digital certificates, such as those from the Citizen Card or Digital Mobile Key, and in some situations, using the Professional Attributes Certification System (SCAP).

AIMA Portal and Digitization of Services

One of the main measures announced by AIMA is the development and availability of the AIMA portal. The initial promise was that the page would be operational by the end of 2023, which has not yet been fulfilled.

This portal will be used to process family reunification requests from long-term residents, eliminating the need for telephone scheduling. The aim is to make immigration services increasingly fast and digital.

What is a residence permit?

The same applied to those who arrived without a visa and decided to stay, making an expression of interest to obtain the AR. Since June 2024, the expression of interest is no longer possible for those entering the country as tourists. Find out everything here.

The residence permit also allows you to travel within the Schengen Area countries, except for the AR CPLP, which only authorizes stays in Portugal.

What is the difference between temporary and permanent residence permits?

As the name suggests, the temporary permit has an expiration date, usually ranging from 2 to 5 years, and needs to be renewed upon expiry.

The permanent permit is granted to those who have resided in the country for at least 5 years and decide to permanently live in Portugal. The rights granted by this permit have no expiration, but the document itself needs to be renewed.

The permanent permit is often an alternative to Portuguese citizenship for those determined to live in the country but who don’t want to undergo the Portuguese language proficiency exam.

Learn more details in our article about the difference between a visa and a residence permit.

Traveling with an appointment protocol for the RP: Is it possible?

Can I travel abroad only with an appointment confirmation for the residence permit, without a valid RP?

Although this question isn’t new, we decided to include it because it is quite common. And the answer is: no!

The appointment protocol for RP renewal is a provisional document and does not guarantee that you won’t encounter issues at the borders of the countries you intend to visit. Therefore, it’s always recommended to have your Residence Permit in hand when leaving the country.

Portuguese Citizenship after 5 years

Those who have properly maintained their residence permits for 5 years may become eligible for Portuguese citizenship through naturalization. We’re referring to citizenship based on residency time. The applicant needs to have a clean criminal record and be able to speak Portuguese (level A2). Find more details by clicking here.

We’re monitoring updates

Our team is awaiting new information about the restructuring of migrant service provisions and will provide updates whenever available! If you’re an Atlantic Bridge client and still have queries, please reach out directly to your account manager for clarification!

Silvia Resende


Silvia Resende

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