Portugal: Association denounces ‘mafias’ that sell immigration appointments

An immigrant solidarity association said on Wednesday that there are “authentic mafias” selling immigrants schedules at the Foreigners and Borders Service for hundreds of euros, a situation already denounced by this security service to the Public Prosecutor in 2019, which filed the complaint.

The president of the association, Timóteo Macedo, told Lusa that “it is complicated” for foreign citizens to get an appointment at the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) to deal with residence permits in Portugal.

“Organised mafias and law firms take all the appointments. When they open appointments, they last 15 minutes on the SEF platform”, he said, noting that immigrants are “being exploited” by being charged “hundreds of euros for an appointment”.

Timóteo Macedo said that “the mafias manage to keep the appointments at SEF and then sell them” to immigrants.

The president of the Immigrant Solidarity Association advocates a new scheduling system, stressing that the previous system, in which SEF contacted the immigrant through a telephone message after a pre-scheduling phase, was more effective, despite taking a long time.

In August 2019, SEF filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP) for evidence of the crime of aiding illegal immigration due to the alleged sale of care vacancies on classified ad portals.

At the time, SEF stated that there could be an “abusive use” of the Automatic Pre-Scheduling System (SAPA) through computer systems and “founded suspicions of the capture of vacancies by private individuals, based on ‘orders’ of packages of service provision that include scheduling and preparation of the request to be submitted”.

In a response now sent to Lusa, the SEF stressed that this investigation took place in the Central Directorate of Investigation of the Foreigners and Borders Service.

“However, they did not allow confirming the suspicions of the crime of aiding illegal immigration, nor of crimes of computer nature, so the prosecutor decided to close the case,” SEF said.

The SEF highlights that after these suspicions, “some measures were taken to safeguard the normal functioning of the computer system of appointments, including the conditional release of vacancies for service and activation of the functionality ‘Recaptcha in the authentication page of the portal.

About the SEF public attendance, which was suspended between 13 February and 16 April due to the state of emergency declared because of Covid-19, this security service reports that about 41,400 citizens were notified of new appointments after the appointments were cancelled.

According to SEF, another 10,000 consultations have been made this year for granting a residence permit, and around 20,000 consultations for this purpose are scheduled until 30 September.

The security service stated that the vacancies for immigrants who have pending processes at SEF are “completely filled until 30 October”, and there are no plans to open new vacancies.

SEF stated that on 26 May, 3,600 vacancies for immigrants were opened and “sold out in little more than half an hour”.

SEF pointed out that the number of daily attendances suffered a decrease due to the security measures adopted in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.