Extinction of SEF border authority leads to record low waiting time at Faro Airport passport control
A record low of 10 minutes was the average waiting time at Faro Airport’s passport control on Sunday following the extinction of Portugal’s border authority SEF, which has seen police forces take on new border control duties.
While the Algarve is known across the world as a leading tourism destination, the truth is that the region has had a dark cloud hanging over it for years in the shape of occasionally hours-long waiting times at Faro Airport’s passport control.
Arriving passengers have reported cases of “bedlam” or “chaos” at the airport’s passport control over the years, with some passengers even fainting due to the long waiting times and overcrowded halls.
On Sunday – the first day that police forces took over border control duties – a total of 79 flights and 13,128 passengers underwent checks by 8pm at Faro Airport. The average waiting time was just 10 minutes, “the shortest waiting time since operations began at Faro Airport”, said Minister of Internal Administration, José Luís Carneiro.
“The change that has been made has equipped the country to adapt to the needs of international demand with greater security than we had until now, because we have many more human resources working in regulation, supervision, and control,” the minister told journalists in Faro.
“All knowledge, experience, and information are now shared and worked on together within the scope of the Internal Security System (SSI) and under the Border and Foreigners Coordination Unit,” he said.
Carneiro added that this restructuring process has given authorities the “conditions to strengthen national border security while also addressing a significant increase in waiting times”, stressing that the record average waiting time of 10 minutes at Faro Airport was a show of “great effectiveness and efficiency in the performance” of the new border control system.
“This morning (Sunday), we had a minor scare related to a problem with the landing gear of an airplane during take-off, which is beyond our responsibility, but despite that, what is certain is that today we reduced all the waiting times we had at Faro Airport,” Carneiro stated.
The news of this smoother passport control experience is even more welcome after the announcement of the first direct air link between Faro and the United States of America, an increasingly important market for the Algarve.
José Luís Carneiro has guaranteed that having more police agents deployed to border control will not affect security in other areas, having stressed that 2,500 new agents were admitted to PSP and GNR police in 2022.
“This year, we will admit another 1,500. A few days ago, 580 new police officers finished their training, and another 500 will enter training in November. This reinforcement of human resources is also related to the goal of strengthening resources at air, maritime, and land borders,” the minister said.
Taking the whole country into account, more than 82,000 border checks at air borders and over 11,400 at maritime borders were carried out on Sunday.
Between midnight and 10am on Sunday at Lisbon Airport, the average waiting time for passengers undergoing checks was 30 minutes, a reduction to one-third of the average waiting time.
The control of maritime borders by GNR officers across Portugal was incident-free, while at air borders, 11 people were placed in facilities described as similar to temporary installation centres.
Said the minister, these people “did not meet the conditions required to enter the Schengen area, which shows that the security conditions also worked effectively”.
“Today was a very positive test, and a word of gratitude is owed to the workers who are part of the PJ inspector team and the PSP agents in the case of air borders, and to the GNR personnel who ensured high levels of security and, at the same time, a smoother flow at airports and ports,” the minister said.
At a time when the world is facing an especially difficult period of conflicts, wars, and instability, Carneiro guaranteed that all of Portugal’s security forces and services are “fully operational” and cooperating better than ever.
“We already had very high levels of security in the country, and having more police and guards at our air, maritime, and land borders means we have a greater capacity to observe and pay attention to all the signs that could jeopardise our collective security,” the minister concluded.
What does the extinction of SEF involve?
SEF was dissolved at midnight on Sunday, with the newly-created Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum (AIMA) taking over administrative matters related to the issuance of documents for foreigners.
SEF’s responsibilities are being transferred to seven organisations, with police functions going to the PSP, GNR, and PJ, while administrative matters related to foreign citizens will be handled by the new agency and the Institute of Registration and Notary Services (IRN).
A Border and Foreign Coordination Unit will also be established, operating under the jurisdiction of the Secretary-General of the Internal Security System, with some inspectors also being transferred to the Tax Authority.
AIMA, which is taking on around 300,000 pending immigrant legalisation cases from SEF, will also take over the duties of the High Commissioner for Migration.
The restructuring of SEF was decided by the previous government and approved in parliament in November 2021, having been postponed twice.
SEF was established in 1986 and was a security service integrated into the Ministry of Internal Administration.
By BRUNO FILIPE PIRES & MICHAEL BRUXO