First, let me state that although I started this thread, the idea of a class action lawsuit is not mine. It’s been circulating on this forum for a while. I’ve had a few further thoughts. Forgive me if this is wordy.
I wrote to my lawyer in Lisbon, who replied that her firm (a large and well known one) has been trying to get the full text of the court’s judgement, so that they can understand the detailed implications of the ruling. Obviously I am not the first client to ask them about it.
She further said that SEF appears to be getting back to pre-covid “normal”, and appointments, approvals, etc., are coming in much more often. Let me remind you what “normal” is: My wife and I applied for the ARI visa long before covid, in November 2017. At that time, everyone was promising 3 to 6 months for the full process. FIFTEEN AND A HALF MONTHS LATER we finally got our approval. Pre-covid! That, my friends, is “Normal”. I don’t want to go back to “Normal”. I want to be treated with as much timeliness and respect as other visa applicants.
Garrett, above, mentions possible SEF retaliation. My friend the property fund manager also raises this question. He told me that several of his clients are now seeking legal advice about initiating similar lawsuits, but he is taking a cautious attitude, due to his political knowledge and connections.
We have to remind ourselves that a lot of politics is involved. For justifiable reasons, the Golden Visa program is widely viewed in Portugal as being associated with corrupt Chinese and Russian oligarchs. There is zero public sympathy for us. As you know, every year there are moves in the Assembly (Parliament) to eliminate the GV program. There is also likely zero sympathy inside SEF. They have enough pressure dealing with a growing refugee influx, and the growing flood of D-7 visas. To the public, and inside SEF, we are wealthy people who can afford a half-million euro second home (second, because we all live somewhere else). We can sit on our luxury yachts and wait. Any appearance of special treatment toward us over desperate refugees and honest working folks would be politically disastrous.
Add to that the fact that SEF management is doing all it can to resist the imminent dismantlement of the agency. Helping GV holders does nothing to help their case in the legislature. In fact, the delays give them a golden excuse to say, “Don’t dismantle the agency, we still have so much to process first!”
Let me take a break with a little anecdote: Back in 1999 I was living in London with my family. I’m a US passport holder. At that time, the Immigration department headquarters in Croydon moved to a new office across the street. The entire immigration system broke down. For nearly a year not a single visa renewal was processed. Meanwhile, they held on to the passports of everyone who’d submitted a renewal application (including us). If we got an emergency US passport and then left the UK, we’d have to return as tourists, our residence visa would be terminated and we’d have to leave the UK to reapply. Business people couldn’t travel. Brits marrying foreign passport holders had to cancel honeymoons (I met several of these). Tens of thousands of foreigners left Britain, businesses were relocating, the US and other governments protested, lawsuits were threatened, but the Home Office did nothing. So I had the bright idea of writing to my local member of Parliament. He had no reason to help me; I wasn’t a voter, he would gain nothing politically from helping me. But he indeed replied, raised a question in Parliament, and wrote to the Home Office. Ten days later I got a call from the Immigration Department to collect my family’s passports and visas. Ours were the ONLY visas processed at that time. When I went there, I was the only civilian in the building. When I walked into the office, the staff SNEERED at me. “You’re the chap who got Parliament after us,” a female clerk said as she literally tossed the passports across the counter at me.
My letter worked, but look at the attitude inside Immigration! Now imagine SEF facing lawsuits.
Back home in Hong Kong, in 2001 (I couldn’t abide living in Britain), HK Immigration denied a visa for an animation artist I was hiring from overseas. He failed the minimum education requirement for a professional visa (he was a high school dropout), but was a genius artist. Again I wrote a letter, to the Director of Immigration, telling in heartfelt terms why I needed him. He got the visa.
Back to the Portugal GV: during my 15-month wait for initial approval, I told these stories to my lawyer in Lisbon, and suggested I write a heartfelt letter to the head of SEF, explaining my intention to move to Portugal and my reasons for applying for the GV instead of other visas. She was aghast! Don’t do it! She cited the reasons above: any hint of favors to a GV investor would be political suicide.
I sent the letter anyway. It garnered me a bland response which said: “Wait”. Did no good for me, but apparently no harm either. My 15-month wait at the time was normal.
Last week I sent a new letter, regarding my wife’s lack of approval for her renewal. Our biometrics appointments were in Faro (me) and Porto (her) in November 2021. I got my new card in May. Hers is still in limbo.
Why am I boring you with these stories? Because, my thoughts are that we do need to wait to see the impact of this successful court case. I also think that a class action suit is more likely to get us the action we want than isolated individual lawsuits. And yes, I do believe we should find a way to organize and approach a potential lawyer.
But I also think a class action suit will get high profile press attention and we will be painted as the evil rich villains using our combined wealth to manipulate the system while poor refugees are starving (never mind that the two are unconnected), and that such a suit will lead to increased pressure for the demise of the GV program. Which, to be perfectly frank, I am not against. With hindsight, I think the golden visa program has had many negative consequences for Portugal and ordinary Portuguese, but that doesn’t affect my desire to finish the process I started.
So what’s my point? While waiting and perhaps discussing strategy for a class action suit that covers the entire process…In the meantime, I wonder whether a letter-writing campaign might possibly do some good. I wrote to the Porto regional office, addressed to the office director. I explained to him that my wife’s expired residency card is an obstacle to numerous practical and professional matters, which in turn delays her relocating and hiring local Portuguese, and so on. This is all actually true. The contact information can be easily found on the SEF website. What if we all wrote letters to the regional directors handling our cases? Not angry letters, not pleading, but heartfelt explanations of our own circumstances and our desires to connect with and contribute to Portugal, that it isn’t all about money. Let them see that we are real people, not Rich Uncle Pennybags (the name of the moustachioed mascot for the Monopoly game). I’m talking about physical paper letters, not e-mails. Bureaucrats worldwide have a Pavlovian response to actual paper.
It’s clear that their delays in processing Golden Visa applications are entirely arbitrary, differ from office to office, and are totally at the discretion of whoever is in charge. If each regional director gets one letter like mine, maybe they’ll be annoyed and take some sort of revenge by slipping my wife’s file back to the bottom. But if they get twenty or thirty such letters, maybe their stone cold bureaucratic hearts might rattle back to life.