While the asylum application can be presented (‘made’) either to SEF or to any other police authority, the responsibility to register asylum claims lies solely with SEF. If an asylum application is presented to a different police authority, it must be referred to SEF by the relevant authority within 48 hours.
The responsibility for organising asylum files (including registration) lies with SEF’s Asylum and Refugees Department (SEF-GAR). SEF-GAR is required to inform CPR, as an organisation working on UNHCR’s behalf, of the registration of individual asylum applications.
In 2022, SEF registered a total of 1,992 applications for international protection (including 150 made by persons relocated to Portugal). However, CPR received 2,135 communications throughout the year. According to CPR’s observation and to the information provided by SEF, this difference may be due to the fact that SEF deemed a number of asylum applications made by Ukrainian citizens before the activation of the Temporary Protection Directive as being “transposed” to the temporary protection regime (not counting them as applications for international protection in its yearly figures).
In accordance with the law, applications for international protection must be presented to SEF or to any other police authority as soon as possible.
While there are no specific time limits for asylum seekers to lodge their application, the law provides for use of the Accelerated Procedure in case the asylum applicant enters or remains irregularly on national territory and fails to apply for asylum as soon as possible without a valid reason. This provision has rarely been applied in practice and, according to the experience of CPR, when applied, it is usually combined with other grounds for the application of accelerated procedures.
Failure to apply for asylum at the earliest possible time, unless the applicant can demonstrate good reason for not having done so, also constitutes a ground for not granting the benefit of the doubt. According to CPR’s observation, this provision has been applied by SEF in practice.
Persons refused entry at the border are liable to immediate removal to the point of departure, meaning that, in practice, they are required to present their asylum application immediately.
Upon presentation of the application, the asylum seeker is required to fill out a preliminary form, which includes information on identification, itinerary, grounds of the asylum application, supporting evidence, and witnesses. This preliminary form is available in Portuguese, English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Lingala, Russian, Ukrainian, and Pashtu. According to CPR’s experience, asylum seekers are not systematically provided with quality interpretation services at this stage of the procedure, which may result in the collection of insufficient and low-quality information.
Since December 2019, following an agreement between SEF and CPR, two CPR liaison officers have been deployed to the premises of SEF-GAR, where the majority of applications are made, inter alia, to facilitate registration, provide information to applicants, and to perform the necessary referrals (e.g. for housing). According to CPR’s observation, this measure has facilitated communication between the relevant entities and the provision of support to asylum seekers.
SEF is required to register the asylum application within 3 working days of presentation and to issue the applicant with a certificate of asylum application within 3 days of registration. Despite isolated delays (e.g. related to the registration of asylum applications presented in SEF’s regional branches), CPR has not encountered systemic or serious problems regarding the registration of applications as opposed to occasional delays in the renewal of documents (usually linked to difficulties in making appointments with SEF).
A decision from the Central Administrative Court South (TCA South) issued in 2021 considered that applications for international protection presented remotely may not be altogether disregarded by SEF. In the case analysed, the application had been initially filed by a lawyer representing the applicant via fax, and was not taken into account by SEF, which demanded it be made in person in order for the necessary checks to be performed (namely because it was not possible to confirm whether the applicant was indeed in Portugal at the time of application). According to CPR’s observation, this did not lead to changes in practice. SEF did not provide information on the implementation or consequences of this decision in its practice.
In 2020, the UN Human Rights Committee highlighted that Portugal should ‘[e]nsure that all applications for international protection at the border and in reception and detention facilities are promptly received, registered and referred to the asylum authorities’ and ‘[c]ontinue its efforts to maintain and strengthen the quality of its refugee status determination procedures, in order to fairly and efficiently identify and recognize those in need of international protection and to afford sufficient guarantees of respect for the principle of non-refoulement under the Covenant’. The Committee further recommended that Portugal strengthens ‘[…] training for the staff of migration institutions and border personnel on the rights of asylum seekers and refugees under the Covenant and other international standards’.
A study focusing on the situation of asylum-seeking unaccompanied children and ageing out in Portugal published in 2021 revealed that the majority of those questioned stated that they were not aware of the possibility of applying for international protection upon arrival in the country, and that they had been informed of it by the national authorities in light of their situation.
 Article 13(1) and (7) Asylum Act.
 Article 13(2) Asylum Act.
 Article 17 Decree-Law 252/2000.
 As of 31/01/2023. Please note that statistics included in this report from CPR refer to the total number of applications communicated to the organisation in accordance with the communication duties established in the Asylum Act.
 CPR considers that all the applications for international protection registered during the year should be accounted for (even if the applicant subsequently withdraws it, for instance). There is no specific legal basis for this so called “transposition” of applications for international protection to the temporary protection regime, and it is unclear whether this amounts to formal withdrawal of the applications for international protection.
 Article 13(1) Asylum Act.
 Article 19(1)(d) Asylum Act.
 Article 18(4)(d) Asylum Act.
 Article 41(1) Immigration Act.
 Articles 13(7) and 14(1) Asylum Act.
 Appointments are generally made through a phone line that is often quite difficult to reach.
 Ibid, par.35(f).
 Sandra Roberto, Carla Moleiro, ed. Observatório das Migrações, De menor a maior: acolhimento e autonomia de vida em menores não acompanhados, April 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3fqMKBK., 50.