Amendments to the Portuguese Nationality Law: A New Paradigm for Residence Permit Applicants

Diogo Capela discusses the most recent amendments to Portugal’s Nationality Law.

In January 2024, the Portuguese Parliament approved a significant set of amendments to the Nationality Law, marking an important turning point for those seeking to obtain a residence permit in Portugal. Among the various legislative changes presented, one of the most notable redefines the way in which the five-year period required to apply for Portuguese citizenship is counted.

The Portuguese Nationality Law allows a person who has legally resided in Portugal for a minimum of five years to apply for Portuguese nationality. Until now, this period of time only began to count when the first residence permit was issued, which often resulted in considerable delays due to administrative delays in analysing immigration processes. Over the last few years, there have been several causes for a significant increase in delays in processing these applications, including COVID-19, the war between Russia and Ukraine and the restructuring of the Portuguese Immigration Services.

Waiting Time

The amendments now explicitly state that the waiting time for approval of the residence application will also be considered in the five years required for citizenship. With the new wording of Article 15(4) of the Nationality Law, it is now established that “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 change makes it possible to mitigate the injustice long felt by those who had been waiting, sometimes for years, for their applications to be approved and who had to wait for their residence permit to be issued before becoming eligible to obtain Portuguese citizenship. Now that the waiting time for approval of the residence application will also be taken into account during this period, an unfair loophole that has affected thousands of people is being corrected, who have been disadvantaged by the mere effect of administrative delays of which they were completely oblivious.

Positive Effects

This legal change could have a positive impact on all immigration processes to Portugal, particularly those applying for the Golden Visa Programme, whose processes are, in some cases, waiting more than two years.

The new legislation will come into force one month after its publication in the Public Gazette, subject to presidential promulgation. We are still waiting for the new Nationality Regulation to be drawn up, which will clarify some of the doubts that still remain and which the wording of the law does not allow to be fully clarified, namely knowing exactly when the five years of legal residence will be counted, since the Nationality Law applies indiscriminately to all types of immigration processes in Portugal, but for each type of process there is a different type of procedure to be adopted and it is not easy to see whether the regulation will be able to distinguish between them or whether it will make the criteria for counting legal residence more ambiguous; let’s hope not!

Predictability and Fairness

One thing is for sure, this change represents a positive step and aims to provide greater predictability and fairness in the processes of obtaining nationality for those applying for a residence permit in Portugal, giving a very positive signal by restoring credibility to the country, which, until now, was acquiescing to unfair situations and, in some cases, promising what, from the outset, it knew it wouldn’t be able to deliver.

For all these reasons, we believe that for many applicants for the Golden Visa and other immigration processes to Portugal, these changes represent a substantial change in their life plans and could contribute positively to an increase in foreign investment this year.

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