According to a report by idealista, between January and mid-June, foreign investors were prevented from submitting their applications for golden visas due to the unavailability of the online platform. Now, the platform is back up and running, but the waiting time for appointments – a necessary step to obtain a visa – has skyrocketed, having more than doubled since the Covid-19 pandemic. Currently an investor can wait up to 18 months for a meeting with the SEF.

Faced with this situation, a foreign investor decided to take the SEF to court and according to idealista, the judge ended up agreeing with the plaintiff and ordered SEF to speed up his process. This decision is seen as “an important precedent that can be used as a paradigm to guide the judgment of similar cases”, Bettino Zanini, the lawyer who led the process, told idealista/news.

Lawyer Bettino Zanini, an immigration specialist, explained the process which begins with the application for golden visas being submitted to the ARI Portal (Residence Authorization for Investment) of SEF. After this, the application will be analysed by SEF, which had previously taken two to three months but this is now taking up to eight months according to the lawyer.

Months of waiting

Once the application is approved, investors can schedule a date at SEF for the delivery of the legally required documentation and the collection of their biometric data and at this stage, foreign investors could choose from several dates. But after the pandemic, vacancies became scarce and now successful candidates wait months until they receive an email to schedule an appointment.

“The substantial increase in the waiting time between making the investment and obtaining the residence permit has been one of the factors that has keep foreigners from investing in Portugal”, said Bettino Zanini.

“The waiting periods between approval and scheduling have increased considerably”, reports Bettino, noting that the first dates available at SEF are for almost six months after approval. “Golden visa investors are looking for a prediction of how long the process might take. And a procedure that used to take 6 or 8 months, is taking 18 months or more since the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Court tells SEF to speed up

It was in December 2021 that an English citizen, a client of Bettino Zanini, decided to invest €350,000 in a real estate investment fund in Portugal for the purpose of a residence permit. And “he was prepared to wait eight months until he had his residence permit issued and moved to Portugal with his family”, said the lawyer in statements to idealista/news. With this change in mind, the foreign citizen “planned to leave his country of residence to come and live in Portugal”. Which included renting a house, enrolling his daughter in a school and leaving the country where he lived.

“Investors choose to invest substantial capital and with that they expect to be treated with seriousness and predictability”, said Bettino Zanini.

With the investment made, the investor applied online at the SEF ARI Portal at the end of 2021 to obtain residency in the country. And it was from then on deadlines began to slip: “The waiting time for the entire procedure, which was already long, increased”. After five months, the investor was still waiting for the approval of the first stage and that was when he decided to proceed with against SEF.

The case was filed in court on April 11, 2022 and in July, the lawyer received the judge's final decision: that SEF would have to analyse and decide on the golden visa application and, if the application met all the required criteria, then SEF would have to make an appointment available for the investor and his family within 10 days, so that they could deliver all the required documentation and collect the biometric data. “The client was very satisfied with the decision rendered by the Administrative Court of Lisbon”, the lawyer told idealista/news.

How does this affect other Golden Visa applications?

Asked whether the court's position on this golden visa process can be applied to other similar processes, Bettino Zanini said that the "decision applies only to this case". But “this is an important precedent that can be used as a paradigm to guide the judgment of similar cases”.

The case is also seen as a warning to the authorities to look at the long waiting times that investors face, because this “is very harmful to this program that aims to attract foreign investment in Portugal and boost the economy of the country”.

Also highlighted by idealista is the amount of money that foreign citizens have to pay to gain access to residence permits. “Each investor pays almost €6,000 in fees for the issuance of their residence permits, which is much higher than other types of residence permits, [but] in return they receive a lower quality service with much longer delays than others cases”.