EuropePolicy Updates

Portugal Amends Nationality Law: 5-Year Naturalization Period Starts From Application (Rather Than Approval) Date

On Friday, Portugal’s parliament approved changes to the country’s nationality law that will allow residents to start counting their five years to citizenship from the day they applied for residency, rather than from the date they received approval. This could mean saving several years off the time to citizenship.

Under the previous legislation, foreign residents of Portugal were eligible to apply for Portuguese citizenship five years after the approval of their residence permit in the country. Due to severe administrative delays with the country’s immigration authorities, however, the time between a residence permit application and its approval can extend to two or more years.

As a consequence, the time it takes, for example, a golden visa investor to reach the naturalization eligibility stage can, in practice, take 7-8 years from the date on which they filed their initial application. These administrative delays have affected a wide range of residency types, not merely those based on investments.

This state of affairs gave rise to a situation in which individuals applying for residency saw their path to citizenship lengthened by several years compared to what’s foreseen in the law, not through any fault of their own but because of the state’s inability to process applications in a timely manner. In the case of golden visa investors, for example, while the legislation supposes a processing time of no more than three months, the actual processing time now exceeds two years.

To address this injustice, the amended law’s Article 15 now contains a new rule, which reads as follows:

For the purposes of counting the legal residence periods provided for in this law, the time elapsed since the moment the temporary residence title was requested is also considered if it is approved.

This new rule, writes immigration law firm Prime Legal in a circular to its clients, recognizes “the damage that the delay in the analysis by public services causes to applicants” and aims to “overcome this failure through an administrative and automatic measure.”

Lawyer Adriano Vieira of AIM Global says, “the big question now is knowing what will be understood as ‘from the moment when the temporary residence permit was requested’, which will be the new starting point from the count: WWhether it would be at the time of the biometric collection, or at the time of the online application.”

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Prime points out that while the interpretation may differ between immigration categories, they expect the interpretation in the case of golden visas to be that investors can start counting their five years from the day on which they submitted the online application and paid the corresponding processing fee.

“Assuming this interpretation,” writes Prime, “ARI applicants with processes submitted online, for example, in January 2019, can apply for Portuguese nationality in January this year (2024), provided that the Golden Visa process has already been subject, in the meantime, to a notification of approval and payment of the issuance fee for their residence title.”

Prime justifies this interpretation by observing that

i) the legal requirements for execution of the investment and demonstration of clean criminal record are satisfied at the time of the application;
ii) this is the moment when a process number is assigned;
iii) the online platform itself recognizes this moment as the registration of an application;
iv) the proof of payment of the processing fee expressly states “title for golden visa permit”; and
v) the form submitted through the online platform is titled “application”.

Ana Rita Reis, Senior Partner of Lisbon-based Edge International Lawyers, writes in an article that, thanks to the amendments, “someone who was or has been waiting for their residency to be approved or for their card to be issued will not see this long waiting period ‘wasted,’ as the date when the residency application was submitted is the one that now counts.”

Reis offers practical examples of what the law implies for golden visa investors:

“Someone who applied for residency in December 2021 and, unfortunately, is still waiting for their approval will now be able to apply for nationality as of December 2026; Someone who applied for residency in March 2019 but waited 18 months for approval, which means that their first residency card was only issued in October 2021, will now be able to apply for nationality as of March 2024; Someone who applies for a residency now – i.e., early 2024 – can be assured that they will be in a position to apply for nationality in 2029, regardless of any potential delays with the processing of the residency application.”

Vieira says it’s important to note that the amendments have yet to take effect:

“They will go to the President, who can approve them, veto them, or submit them to the Constitutional Court for analysis.”

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