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What is AIMA, the New Agency Replacing SEF?

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Last updated on March 4, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

The establishment of the Agency for Integration, Migration, and Asylum (AIMA) marks a new chapter in Portugal’s immigration policy. Replacing the former Portuguese Borders and Immigration Service (SEF), AIMA aims to streamline and humanise the process of managing immigration and asylum services.

For those moving to Portugal, primarily from outside of the EU/EEA/Switzerland (i.e. those coming in on D7s, digital nomad visas, or golden visas) AIMA is the government organisation they will have to deal with while applying for residency in Portugal.

This article provides a detailed understanding of AIMA, essential for those considering moving to Portugal.

The Inception of AIMA

AIMA officially commenced operations on October 30, 2023, following legislation approved in late 2022 and early 2023. The agency’s creation is part of a broader restructuring of Portugal’s immigration policy, focusing on a more integrated and efficient approach. With a substantial budget of 81 million euros and a strong emphasis on digital infrastructure and human resources, AIMA aims to reshape the landscape of immigration services in Portugal.

AIMA’s Role and Responsibilities

As the successor to SEF, AIMA’s primary role is to handle administrative procedures related to foreign nationals, diverging from SEF’s combined administrative and police functions. AIMA’s responsibilities include:

  • Controlling entry and stay of foreign nationals.
  • Issuing and renewing various residence permits and certificates.
  • Managing refugee and asylum cases, including a new National Multidisciplinary Center for Protection and Integration.

Addressing the Backlog of Cases

One of AIMA’s most significant challenges is managing the backlog of more than 300,000 pending cases, primarily focusing on family reunification, at least initially. To tackle this, AIMA will launch a “mega operation” in early 2024, expected to process applications within 12 to 15 months. This operation involves collaboration with municipalities, professional orders, and Local Support Centers for Migrants, drawing inspiration from the organisational model of Portugal’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

Currently, there are a lot of Portugal that have been waiting for a year or even longer to get an appointment. They will also be hoping that AIMA is working hard to replicate the success of Portugal’s COVID-19 campaign.

Modernisation and Expansion

AIMA’s approach to managing immigration services includes significant investments in digitalization and an increase in workforce. The agency will launch its portal by the end of 2023 for family reunification applications, moving towards predominantly digital processes. Additionally, AIMA plans to establish ten new service points in 2024, adding to the existing 34 service points across Portugal.

Division of Responsibilities

With the establishment of AIMA, several responsibilities have been redistributed among different bodies:

Enhanced Support and Integration

AIMA emphasises support and integration, establishing a telephone support center and collaborating with professional associations for legal support. A strategic plan for Portuguese language learning and labor market integration will be launched, including a training center in Santarém.

In previous years, one of the biggest complaints people had about SEF was not being able to get through. Some even noted that the phone numbers changed frequently without any obvious attempt to inform applicants. It will be interesting to see if AIMA is considerably better than SEF in this regard.

Changes from SEF

According to Sandra Gomes Pinto, “In the beginning, we thought AIMA would essentially be SEF but with a different name, especially given that the staff and offices were the same. However, we have started to notice some procedural changes, particularly where AIMA is intervening earlier in residency applications.”

Conclusion

AIMA’s inauguration represents Portugal’s commitment to a more humane and efficient immigration system. The agency’s focus on digitalisation, human resource expansion, and family reunification reflects a forward-thinking approach to migration management.

For most people applying for residency in Portugal, the move from SEF to AIMA is simply a rebranding. As to whether or not AIMA will be an improvement on SEF, the proof will be in the pudding.

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James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.