Lawyers in Portugal are Providing Free Assistance to Ukrainian Refugees

By James Cave / Published: March 2022.
Posted in: Visas & Residency

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(Цю статтю перекладено українською мовою)

Portugal has said that Ukrainians are welcome in Portugal, and people all across the country have been doing their bit to help Ukrainians, whether it’s helping those still in Ukraine through aid and donations or helping those who have already made the move to Portugal through providing accommodation, offers of employment, or other support.  

Many Portuguese lawyers are also offering their services to Ukrainian refugees and the Portuguese Bar Association has published a list of lawyers, broken down by region, that are offering their support pro bono. Gabriel Klemz Klockfrom FE.Law, a law firm based in Lisbon, is one such lawyer. Over the past few days, he has been helping a group of young developers and blockchain professionals register and get set up in Portugal. 

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James: What made you offer your services to Ukrainians trying to move to Portugal?

Gabriel: Lawyers are defenders of human rights and we feel it is our obligation to get involved and help those seeking refuge in Portugal. What we’re doing is a small thing, but those coming to Portugal often have a huge number of questions about what their rights are, what the process for registration is, and what they legally can and can’t do. We’re in a position where we can speak to SEF and clarify some of those questions, and I feel it’s important that we use our expertise to help people.

James: I understand that the Portuguese government has simplified the normal process for moving to Portugal. Can you explain a little bit more about this?

Gabriel: This simplified process was brought in on March 1st and it’s still very new. The motive is good, but it’s still a little unclear how it’ll all work in practice, which is why we have been getting involved and liaising with SEF to provide answers to these questions. 

As it stands, residency is being granted for one year with the possibility of being extended. The tax identification number (NIF), social security identification number (NISS), and national health service number (SNS) are to be automatically assigned to Ukrainians when they enter Portugal. Because the system is still very new, this part of the process isn’t automatic yet: those registering are being asked to provide their email address and these numbers will be emailed to them once they are made available. 

James: It sounds like SEF is doing all it can here. Hopefully, they can automate the registration of those numbers soon. 

Gabriel: Yes. A number of SEF employees are working overtime on a voluntary basis to handle the registration of Ukrainians coming to Portugal. 

James: If the process has been simplified, why is a lawyer necessary? 

Gabriel: A lawyer isn’t necessary, but we can help in translating and clarifying questions. Naturally, people have a lot of questions at the moment and we can help answer those or speak to SEF to get the answers. 

Some of the questions people have are because they haven’t received these numbers yet. The NIF, for example, is typically needed to open a bank account in Portugal, and so Ukrainians who have already registered are wondering what they can do in the interim. That’s an area where we can try to find solutions or at least provide some answers. 

James: What questions are being asked at the registration point?

Gabriel: At the moment those arriving are being asked to show their passport and fill out a simple form, which is in Portuguese and Ukrainian. The questions are focused on personal details such as name, date of birth, parent’s names, etc. An email address is important as this is how SEF will be sending the NIF, NISS, and SNS numbers once they have been processed. 

James: And what about those who were resident in Ukraine but don’t have a Ukrainian passport?

Gabriel: There is a provision for family members of Ukrainians, such as a non-Ukrainian spouse of a Ukrainian citizen. One area that hasn’t been mentioned, however, are the non-Ukrainian citizens who were living in Ukraine who don’t have a Ukrainian family member. There will be students, employees, and business owners, some of whom were just as tied to Ukraine as a Ukrainian citizen is, who fall into this category. We hope this area gets clarified soon. 

James: And those that have a Ukrainian passport but aren’t currently resident in Ukraine?

Gabriel: The law doesn’t discriminate here. What people are being asked for is to show their passport or proof of nationality rather than details of where they were resident. 

James: Ukrainians are being granted one-year residency and possibly more. Will that time count towards permanent residency and Portuguese citizenship?

Gabriel: Permanent residency and Portuguese citizenship are awarded to those who have been resident in Portugal for five years. This new law does not discriminate against someone who’s resident as part of this system versus another residency permit, and so those years should count. 

James: Over the next year or so, I imagine many people who move to Portugal will create new lives and maybe even put down roots in Portugal. If the one-year residency they’ve been granted doesn’t get extended, will it be possible to switch over to another form of residency that would allow them to stay? 

Gabriel: I think so. Again, they will have been treated as residents while living here. 

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