Class action lawsuit?

The above news sets a precedent for further legal action to force SEF into action. I would like to start a discussion about the possibility of a joint or class action lawsuit. I think we might get enough people interested to raise the money to do so.

I know a property fund manager in Portugal who has many frustrated GV clients. He’s a friend, I’m not one of his investors. Two years ago he tried recruiting two leading Lisbon law firms to file a lawsuit, but neither firm wanted to go along, probably so as not to jeopardize their cozy relationships with SEF (full disclosure: one of those firms is the one I use. I scolded them heartily over this). My friend the property fund manager might be interested in reviving the idea.

I think a class action suit initiated by us could go somewhere, especially with this precedent.

On another thread, ONWARD said:

The 3 months from application to a decision on pre-approval is required under law. The Court was also unusually rapid: litigation initiated in April, decision in July. As the lawyer points out, although pertaining to a single case, the precedent can be used to the advantage of other GV applicants. The lawyer (with experience in Brazil & Portugal) will probably be very popular now!

There are also 2 relevant happenings - (i) a modification to the law on immigration: https://www.portugal.gov.pt/en/gc23/communication/news-item?i=parliament-approves-amendments-to-the-law-on-foreign-nationals; 1 and (ii) the creation of a Task Force to Facilitate Visas («Grupo de coordenação e acompanhamento para a agilização dos vistos ) reported in English on IAS Portugal creates a Task Force to optimize the granting of Visas 1. But for those who want the full report it is here in Portuguese: https://files.dre.pt/2s/2022/08/148000000/0004500046.pdf

Whether and how quickly the Court ruling, immigration law and Task Force will impact on SEF processes remains to be seen…

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I am in. I also know several investors who most likely would be interested too.

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I’d be in. If someone took lead and organised this, I’m sure most people on this forum would also join in.

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I am in as well

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I am interested

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I believe many investors are encouraged by the news and would join us.

Can we first find a lawyer who wants to represent our interests? of course, it would be great if the the lawyer in the news Bettino Zanini is interested. Then the lawyer can lay down some big guidelines, such as number of clients, fee, timeline, paperworks, etc.

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I would definitely pitch in. It may have already been said, but it would be great if somehow the suit could address the whole process, not just pre-approval. It SHOULD NOT take 18 -24 months for this to be sorted.

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I’m in as well potentially.

My lawyer (AGPC investments) says they are waiting to see if the sef retaliate against the English lawsuit winner or his family, or if they even listen to the court

There are more Garretts In the Portugal GV environment than I’ve seen anywhere else, it’s funny

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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.

Any thoughts?

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I see one major downside of the class action suit or any kind of the lawsuit against SEF.

Many of us target to get the PT passport after 5 years of GV. Now the requirements to prove the link with Portugal are quite relaxed, but are still very subjective, i.e. the power is in hands of particular SEF officer(s) who work with your case. Imagine they will use this power to decline your citizenship application simply based on your participation in class action suit or any other legal activity against SEF?..

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Lourenço and Max: you both express thoughts I have had better than I have been able to articulate. Having dealt with bureaucracies across the world in my professional career, I never expected 6 months to mean 6 months or 5 years to mean 5 years (though I certainly hoped it would). I am a firm believer in the adage “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”, but you still don’t catch all the flies. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t - but it very rarely hurts to be the “nice guy” when dealing with bureaucrats (except in certain post-Soviet countries, for some reason). I, for one, am interested in all approaches, including a class action suit if necessary - but for me that is a last resort for all the reasons mentioned in your posts. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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In the case, the decision for citizenship isn’t with SEF - it’s the Ministry of Justice. This is very, very clear. The law makes no reference to anything that SEF would be involved in, other than duration of legal residence. So while there may still be a human involved, they are at least in a different department that is fairly far away from SEF, which is under the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

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I’d have to agree with this.

We are victims of the last decade of a lot of cynical applicants just looking for an easy EU passport.

It is up to us to change that.

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But frankly, are we not?

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In our case, no. But I recognize that we are outliers.

Our plan all along was to move to Portugal last year, now postponed until the end of this year, not to collect passports for Plan B type of planning. We opted for the Golden Visa because: 1) It gave us a head start on residency a full three years before the planned move; 2) It seemed easier than the other types of visas for people in our situation; 3) We had a lucky windfall roughly equal to the cost of the GV investment and needed to invest the money somewhere no matter what. All the cards fell into place.

I’ve encountered a few others in similar situations. I don’t know what motivates others in this forum, but most of the GV investors I’ve encountered are, sadly, Chinese nationals looking to take advantage of the program while at the same time finding a safe haven for their money outside of China. In many cases, the safe haven for cash is the primary motivation, with the visa just icing.

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The Chinese GV investors composition has changed a lot since 2019. I believe most of them are actually from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Shouldn’t we call them political refugees?

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Honestly, I don’t quite understand the point of “X-country nationals looking to take advantage of the program”. If the X-country national is meeting all the requirements of the program, and the Y-country national is also meeting them, why would someone say that the X-country national is a ‘bad guy’ while the other is what? Good guy? Just because they want to live in PT more than 7 days a year? This whole insinuation seems odd at best.

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There is no such thing “country X takes advantage of the program”. The requirement was created by Portugal and it can be changed any time by Portugal. Therefore all applicants are underdog and never have anything to take advantage of the GV program.

Every single year, the portuguese authority can see the result clearly that chinese applicants dominate the overall program. But they do nothing. It means to me that Portugal wants to use “7 days physical requirement” as a key factor to attract the chinese money. They could easily change 7 days to 100 days or whatever, and it would easily turn off almost chinese applicants. The game of the portuguese government here is to get as much foreigned money as possible. When the money from China is pumped to Portugal, it is good for the portuguese economy overall.

If the chinese applicants did not invest in PT in the first place, then they would still invest their money elsewhere in Europe (it could be Spain, a very similar program with minimal physical requirement as well).

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I think Portugal and SEF provide efficient and supportive visa processing services, especially in comparison to their counteparts from other countries. I suggest not pursuing the class action lawsuit route.

Replace “Chinese” to “Russians”, would it make sense? I support @tommigun here. The rules are same for everyone. If one manages to fulfill the requirements, they are eligible. Otherwise…

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