After a year marked by a return of the effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on world mobility and the delays in immigration processes, 2022 presents itself as new, different, and expectant.
Several measures are being implemented at a national and European level that will bring new frameworks to the Portuguese immigration system and respond to the thousands of foreigners who look to Portugal as a country of residence, investment, retirement, or tourism.
Below is an overview of the 15 immigration trends and new developments for 2022.
#1 – Entry and exit at Portuguese borders
Portugal has maintained, since 2019, a very flexible stance with regard to border restrictions. Still, due to the new variants of the virus and their potential for contagion, in order to keep itself as a safe destination for residents and travellers, Portugal has extended special measures regarding testing for the purpose of international fights until February 9, 2022.
Accordingly, those who fly to Portugal must still, upon boarding, present a negative test – or the certificate of recovery from COVID-19 infection less than six months ago – even for those who have the digital vaccination certificate, regardless of the fight's point of origin or the passenger's nationality.
For entry into Portugal by land, citizens coming from EU countries considered low or moderate risk must hold an EU Digital COVID Certificate, proving vaccination, negative testing, or recovery. Citizens from countries outside the EU, as well as from EU countries considered at risk level red or dark red, must present:
- EU Covid Digital Certificate in the testing or recovery modalities, or
- Negative RT-PCR test performed within the last 72 hours, or
- Negative rapid laboratory antigen test performed within the last 48 hours.
Cross-border workers, essential service workers, as well as emergency, rescue, safety, and emergency services workers are still excluded from the testing requirement, even if they come from countries classified as high risk.
In all cases, citizens coming from Southern African countries, namely Botswana, South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe must undergo an RT-PCR or Rapid Antigen Test and comply with 14 days of prophylactic isolation at home or at a place indicated by health authorities.
#2 – Validity of residence permits
All Residence Permits or "visas" that expired after March 13th. 2020 are now considered valid until March 31, 2022. This deadline extension will bring more legal security to foreigners who were in Portugal with expired titles and will also serve to mitigate the effects of the Immigration Office (SEF) closure during lockdown periods and facilitate the mobility of all holders of Residence Titles who were unable, as a result of the closure of borders, to travel to Portugal for the purposes of renewal or compliance with minimum periods of stay.
In addition, the government has determined that foreign citizens who have made, until December 31, 2021, requests for residence or asylum under Law 23/2007 or Law 27/2008, respectively, will now be considered in good standing in national territory, provided they present:
- The document of expression of interest or of the request issued by the registration platforms in use at SEF or;
- The document proving the appointment at SEF or a receipt proving the request was made.
#3 – Pending immigration processes and schedules
In late 2021, the SEF began an effort to recover pending processes, especially at the level of applicants who were impacted by the effects of the Pandemic. In this sense, it adopted exceptional measures, in order to recover pending cases and efficiency in the document management of foreign citizens. Consequently:
- The functionality of automatic residence permit renewal through the online platform was made available for about 29,000 foreign citizens whose residence permits expired before March 31, 2022;
- A chronological notification process was implemented for applicants with pending processes and vacancies were made available for the respective scheduling through official resources;
- As of January 8, a pilot project for attendance without prior scheduling will begin in two service points in Coimbra, through the delivery of a limited number of tickets for residence permit renewal, granting of residence under the community regime and residence authorization under the ARI/investment activity regime (granting, renewal and family reunification).
With the measures announced, it is expected that in 2022 the processes may resume the original processing and approval times – 90 days in the case of granting and 60 days in the case of renewals – which will certainly strengthen Portugal's place in the ranking of destination countries for 2022.
#4 – The "New" Golden Visa
With the start of the New Year, the regime of residence permit by investment, intended for citizens of third countries who do not intend to move permanently to Portugal, is now subject to new minimum investment values, as well as to some restrictions at the level of the geographical location of certain real estate investments.
Even so, the 8 existing investment options for 2021 and the minimum period of stay of 14 days every 2 years will remain in force, with access to Portuguese nationality after 5 years.
It should be remembered that the approved changes had the objective of reducing speculation on property prices in major cities although data shows that only around 2% of transactions made per year in Lisbon and Porto are related to obtaining Gold Visas.
However, it is still possible to qualify for the program with an investment in major urban centres such as Porto, Lisbon, or Faro if the property is intended for tourism, services, or a different use other than housing. In this sense, 2022 will certainly bring with it the reallocation of many properties in large cities, in order to maintain their eligibility, as well as new structures, namely through Investment Funds that allow, albeit indirectly, the Golden Visa application associated with the real estate market.
Nevertheless, a new dynamism is expected in the interior of the country – which has already been noted due to a growing interest of residents and tourists in less populated areas due to the logic of social distancing introduced by the Pandemic.
Picture 1 – Map of Interior Cities (Left) and a Map of Low-Density Zones (Right)
Also, with regard to candidates, 2021 has already anticipated a change in trends, with emphasis on the growing interest by British, Russian, Indian, and North American investors, the latter even surpassing Chinese and Brazilian investors, who have maintained a consolidated presence at the top of the applicant nationalities since 2012.
Concomitantly, and with the growing interest in Portugal by corporate investors, it is expected that the remaining investment options available will become increasingly significant, highlighting not only the Investment Funds but also the business, technological, and scientific options (as a result of the current government's efforts to innovate and create technological hubs), as well as the cultural option that turns out to be not only the most necessary to recover the sector, but also the most accessible in terms of investment with a minimum of 200,000.00 thousand euros.
#5 – Brexit and ETIAS
As British citizens have been stripped of their European citizenship, they have also been stripped of their four fundamental freedoms: the free movement of goods between European Union (EU) states, the free transit of persons, the freedom to provide services within the EU, and the free movement of capital.
With the introduction of ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System), scheduled for the end of 2022, travellers for tourism and business who do not need a visa to travel within the Schengen Area will have to apply in advance for this authorization in order to do so and will be obliged to provide a set of personal data and pay the respective fee.
The growing interest of British citizens in immigration programs such as the Golden Visa or the D7, is therefore natural, as they assure them, in the first instance, a European residence permit and, in the medium term, the recovery of European citizenship. In January 2021, more than 18,000 British citizens had already requested the exchange of their residence permit to Portugal, out of a total of 45,000 currently residing in Portugal.
It should also be remembered that, with the entry into force of the Agreement on the Exit of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union, United Kingdom nationals residing in Portugal at the end of the transition period (31/12/2020) were protected, as well as family members who benefited from rights under European Union law (spouses and registered partners, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, and a person in an existing durable relationship), who do not yet live in Portugal, in order to join them in the future.
In this sense, it has become crucial to comply with the new administrative procedures implemented, namely:
- Regarding the proof of residence in Portugal: proceed to request the residence document from the SEF;
- Regarding the right of permanent residence in Portugal (5 years): proceed to obtain the permanent residence document from SEF;
- For natural and legal taxpayers, with tax domicile in the United Kingdom: proceed to appoint a tax representative, until June 30, 2022;
- Regarding residents in Portugal: communicate to IMT (Institute of Mobility and Transport) your residence in Portugal within 60 days after establishing it and exchange the driving license until December 31, 2022.
#6 – D7 and the Non-Habitual Resident Regime
Interest in the D7 visa is growing among third-country nationals. also due to Portugal's positioning as a privileged country for retirees, digital nomads, and holders of passive income (such as crypto-shares, financial investments, property income, or dividends) due to the quality and low cost of living it offers, combined with the Non-Habitual Resident (NHR) tax regime.
Specially, the D7 is a residence visa whose procedure starts in the country of origin and allows the applicant to travel to Portugal and obtain a residence permit by proving the passive income and the other generic conditions associated with the attribution of the right of residence (absence of criminal record or proof of housing, for example). With the D7, the holder may reside and work in Portugal, as well as reunite the family, circulate within the Schengen area, and obtain Portuguese nationality after 5 years. It is associated with longer periods of stay in Portugal (when compared to the Golden Visa) but the law provides some exceptions that make it very attractive.
Cumulatively, the NHR status can be applied for – a tax (but not immigration) status that allows any citizen, regardless of nationality (and is therefore also available to European citizens), to benefit from a more favourable personal tax regime for a period of 10 years.
Among the various benefits, there is a 10% tax rate on pensions, a 20% at rate on income from high value-added activities in Portugal, and an exemption with regards to taxation of foreign source income through employment, self-employment, capital, or property if they meet certain conditions, such as taxation in the country of origin, in accordance with the double taxation treaty concluded by Portugal with that country.
#7 – Entrepreneur Visa, Visa for Highly Qualified Activities (HQA) and Start-up Visa
Although with more residual dissemination, the Entrepreneur Visa, the Visa for Highly Qualified Activities and the Start-Up Visa are also destined to become important trends for 2022 as more and more foreigners choose Portugal to develop their activity and benefit from the door that opens to the European market but also the market of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe and East Timor).
With no associated minimum investment amounts or excluded activities, each of these programs begins in the applicants' country of origin, although, in some cases, the respective residence permit may be granted directly in Portugal without a prior visa.
Like the D7, they allow family reunification and access to Portuguese and European citizenship and are associated with longer periods of stay in Portugal (when compared to the Golden Visa) but the law provides some exceptions that make them sufficiently flexible and adequate to the profile of the applicant for which they were designed.
#8 – Portuguese nationality through the Sephardic link
The Sephardic community is descended from Jews who had their roots in the Iberian Peninsula. To correct certain persecutory policies, Portugal chose to grant Portuguese nationality to citizens who unequivocally demonstrated that they were descendants of Sephardic Jews. Although this route of acquiring Portuguese nationality has been in place since 2015, in 2020 alone there were more than 80,000 applications and more than 24,000 approvals.
The importance of the Portuguese passport, one of the strongest according to international rankings, has been gaining prominence in the Portuguese descendant and Sephardic community. One recent example is the acquisition of Portuguese passports by Roman Abramovich, owner of the English soccer club Chelsea.
It should, however, be noted that there are several ways to acquire Portuguese nationality, as a result of recent changes introduced in the law, highlighting in the first place Sephardic descent and, in the second, legal residence for five years.
Picture 2 – SEF 2020 Report
#9 – Agreement with India on the recruitment of Indian nationals
As from the entry into force of the agreement, whenever an employer wishes to hire an Indian worker, he must communicate this intention to the Institute of Employment and Vocational Training (IEFP), which will transmit it to the Indian authorities, who will be responsible for the selection process, at the end of which the employment contract will be signed and the visa granted to the recruited worker. The protocol will be applicable to recruitment for any employment activity and whatever the duration of the employment contract, benefiting Indian workers with all the rights guaranteed by Portuguese legislation.
The agreement was concluded taking into account the need to strengthen the effectiveness of migration management and the importance of regularized employment, particularly in the case of skilled workers, academics, researchers and information technology professionals.
Recall that the Indian community was the fastest growing in Portugal in 2020, totalling 24,550 citizens, which corresponded to an increase of 39.3%compared to 2019.
#10 – Mobility and circulation within the CPLP area
The nine countries belonging to the Community of Portuguese Language Countries have finally established the framework for cooperation on mobility of citizens, and between the states themselves, through a flexible and variable system that will include short stays, temporary stays, visas, and CPLP residence permits, covering holders of diplomatic, official, special and service passports, as well as holders of ordinary passports.
In this sense, each country is legislating, in concrete terms, how it wants to implement this principal agreement. In the case of Portugal, the agreement provides for more flexibility in the relocation of students, researchers, and businessmen from the CPLP.
In the case of the "CPLP residence permit", each beneficiary will have the same rights, freedoms, and guarantees as the nationals of the host state and the enjoyment of equal treatment, particularly with regard to the right of residence, access to education, the labour market, and health care.
#11 – Restructuring of the immigration service
Although approved in 2021, the SEF extinction was extended to the end of the second half of 2022 and will determine the transfer of SEF's police competencies to the Public Security Police (PSP), the National Republic Guard (GNR), and the Judiciary Police (PJ).
The new entity will now be called the Portuguese Agency for Migration and Asylum (APMA) and will be responsible for migration and asylum matters, namely the regularization of the entry and stay of foreign citizens in national territory, issuing opinions on requests for residence visas, asylum, and refugee settlement.
For its part, the Institute of Registration and Notary Affairs will renew the residence permits of foreign citizens living in Portugal.
The processes of coercive removal and judicial expulsion of foreign citizens will become the competence of the PSP and GNR, which will also be responsible for managing the temporary installation spaces.
#12 – The Interior Program
The Interior Program was launched for the first time in 2020, extending until 2023, and aims, briefly, to increase the competitiveness of the country's interior regions, avoiding the massive concentration in Lisbon and Porto and in coastal cities. It aims to facilitate job search, offer housing subsidies, and provide financial incentives of up to €4,827, depending on installation costs, transportation, and household size. In the case of companies, this amount increases up to 82,106€ by job position.
The biggest change to this Program in 2021 was the extension of its scope to foreign people who decide to move to Portugal. According to this new measure, any foreigner who decides to move to the interior of the country to work will also be entitled to these incentives. This widening of the scope of application will make it possible to boost and increase the competitiveness of the hinterland and, at the same time, make more regions of Portugal known and create job opportunities in different areas.
#13 – Impact of the legislative elections
In 2021, Portugal had its government dissolved for failure to approve the State Budget. As such, Legislative Elections will take place on January 30th. For these elections, the various parties have presented their electoral programs.
As far as immigration issues are concerned, it is possible that there may be new legislative impulses depending on the Government that is formed. For example, with regards to the extinction of the SEF, the process will be in the hands of the Government that emerges from these elections. It is important to say, however, that if the Socialist Party – PS (current Government) is in favour of the extinction and consequent reform of the SEF, the same cannot be said of the Social Democratic Party – PSD, which is against it.
In terms of immigration policies, the PSD proposes revision of the immigration law with the goal of "attracting and retaining talent in Portugal," with the adoption of a system per points and a "green card" system, as exists in the USA.
The PS, on its part, presents as proposals the creation of bilateral migration agreements with countries outside the EU, in order to simplify the processes of entry of workers in recruitment processes, as well as other mobility agreements with specific programs to promote immigration and reforms to shorten the procedures for family reunification, renewal of residence permits and simplification of the process to obtaining them. As for emigrants, it intends to encourage their return through the Regressar Program, which aims to support the return of emigrants through specific aids such as housing, education, or social protection.
#14 – COVID Vaccination for foreigners
With a view to inclusion, Portugal has been a pioneer in providing access to vaccination for foreigners who are in Portugal, regardless of their regular or irregular situation. Currently, foreign citizens can enroll in the vaccination process in two ways, depending on whether or not they have a National Health Service user number:
- Foreigners with a user number: enrolment must be done through the self-scheduling request- https://covid19.min-saude.pt/pedido-de-agendamento/
- Foreigners without a user number: the registration must be made through a platform created by the DGS- https://servicos.min-saude.pt/covid19/vacinacao-nao-utente.
- Foreigners in irregular situation: https://servicos.min-saude.pt/covid19/vacinacao-nao-utente
It should be highlighted that Portugal was the country that most quickly managed to reach the highest rate of vaccination of the population, which reinforces the degree of international confidence in it.
#15 – Digital residency and acts at-distance
The Portuguese government has made an effort to digitize services in order to meet the challenges of today's society. In this sense, it announced in 2020 the creation of the digital residency. This program is still under development through the creation of the e-Residency platform and aims to assign, through a 100% online service, an identity and digital residence in Portugal to citizens or companies not residing in the country, giving access to online Portuguese public services and, consequently, to the Tax Identification Number, the Social Security Identification Number, allowing also to incorporate/register companies, open a bank account and to exercise a professional activity and conduct business.
This program is aimed at Digital Nomads and individual businessmen, as well as any foreign company, regardless of its size or sector of activity, wishing to do business in the EU and outside the EU, via Portugal, investors seeking to invest in Portugal and the EU but also Portuguese service companies (financial institutions, law firms, accounting firms, among others) as it ensures high standards of authentication mitigating fraud risks and ensuring the fight against money laundering and strengthening the duties of Know Your Customer.
In the same vein, the regime that makes it possible to carry out, through videoconferencing, authentic acts, terms of authentication of private documents requiring the presence of the intervenients before registry offers, notaries, Portuguese consular agents, lawyers or solicitors, has finally been published, thus responding not only to the difficulties imposed by Pandemic but also to the waiting time at official Portuguese representations abroad.
Among the authorized acts are the authentication of private documents, signatures recognition, divorces, or separations by mutual consent, as well as acts subject to land registration, such as the purchase and sale of real estate. Qualifications of heirs are also covered, but wills are not.
The acts will be performed through an official online platform, which will guarantee the necessary security from a technological point of view. The regime will come into effect on April 4, 2022 and will have an initial duration of two years.
It is well known that Portugal has been one of the countries of choice in terms of tourism, labour immigration, and investment, having one of the most requested investment residency programs in Europe, which came to meet the new needs and priorities created by Covid-19. It is not surprising, therefore, that according to the Census 2021, foreign residents in Portugal have increased by about 40%, which contributes positively to the urgent rejuvenation of the population.
AICEP (the Portuguese Agency for Investment and Foreign Trade), for its part, beat the record of supported investment in 2021 with emphasis on multinational groups that have chosen Portugal to establish operations such as Google, Microsoft, Cisco or Repsol.
The political and social stability, but also the geopolitical location of the country, its privileged natural resources, as well as the openness and acceptance of the Portuguese society regarding the different communities have contributed to these results.
With the above-mentioned legal framework and innovations, Portugal's readiness to meet the needs that have long been demanded in an increasingly global and digital world is clear to see. Overall, it can be concluded that there is a progressive modernization of the regimes with a view to increasing efficiency and transparency, as well as the implementation of new instruments to attract immigrants, companies, and direct investors.
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