Inspectors ‘flee’ SEF due to uncertainty as tens of thousands of Brits still ‘high and dry’

News in tabloid Correio da Manhã is that inspectors attached to SEF, Portugal’s borders and foreigners agency, are ‘fleeing’ the service to work for European counterpart Frontex.

The reason is the uncertainty swirling over what will be happening to SEF’s workforce in the wake of its ‘extinction’ (click here).

CM puts the numbers leaving at 43 – nine of whom left in the last two months.

The decree ordering the extinction of the service appeared in government newspaper Diário da República on November 12, giving 60 days for the transfer of ‘policing competences’ to be transferred to the nation’s three other forces, PJ, GNR and PSP, and the creation of the new ‘Portuguese Agency for Migrations and Asylum’. Then, earlier this month, parliament approved a new decree extending the service’s lifespan to June. But this hasn’t ‘held’ inspectors at their posts, particularly as SEF’s reputation as an institution is apparently very respected by Frontex, thus the inspectors will feel ‘welcomed’, which they have intimated they may not feel if absorbed into police forces here.

“The effects of this hemorrhaging are being felt”, says CM, suggesting these will be more on the criminal investigations side of the service. “CM knows that the central directorate of investigation has various teams with cases underway which are losing staff. SEF has not commented on this operational aspect”.

But there is another huge ‘grey area’ in the performance (or not) of SEF at the moment, and this concerns the ‘legalising’ of thousands of British residents, post-Brexit (click here).

The dilemma faced by so many outlined in the Resident’s story of two months ago, appears barely to have move forwards – with the collateral effect compromising other aspects of people’s lives here.

A new example coming to our attention has been the one of ‘family reunification’. A source for the British Consulate advising on how to deal with this (the decision, for example, of an elderly British citizen to move to Portugal to be closer to his or her resident children) explains that under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, this can go ahead perfectly legally. The elderly relative would not need to apply for a visa, and can stay beyond the 90 days allowed for visiting Britons as the intention is to obtain residency under family reunification. But, that said, the complication at the moment is that SEF will only process these requests when the anchor person (the  British citizen resident in Portugal before January 1 2021) has been issued with a new (biometric) residence card… and this is where the whole process falls down.

“SEF are severely delayed in getting this rolling. We don’t know how long it is going to take SEF to deal with the thousands of applications for the new card”, said the source. “Colleagues at the Embassy are in frequent contact with SEF at senior level, lobbying for the process to be accelerated”.

So, the legality of situations like family reunification is hampered by the fact that anyone coming here to join their families will be without official papers; unable to register at a local health centre for healthcare, etc etc.

The ramifications of SEF’s position in a nomansland of uncertainty is likely to continue creating problems on multiple fronts for many more months to come.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com