The Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) is a security service under the Ministry of Home Affairs, with administrative autonomy and is part of the internal security policy of the country.
The objectives of this service are to control the movement of persons at borders, permanence and the activities of foreigners in Portugal, as well as examining, promoting, co-ordinating and executing measures and actions related to these activities and to migratory movements.
The historical outline that follows is based on when and where this service came to light, how it was formed, how it has grown, always bearing in mind absolute achievement of the mission for which it is responsible.
Following the 1974 Revolution, once the Directorate-General for Security was eliminated, the same Decree-Law that eliminated it, at the same time gave the Judiciary Police control over foreign nationals in Portugal and the Fiscal Guard the surveillance and control of borders.
It is generally agreed that it is the duty of each country to protect the integrity and security of its heritage and its population against any type of threat that may come from beyond its borders, so clearly the aforementioned Decree-Law had to be promulgated on the actual day of 25 April 1974, as indeed it was, because Portugal's borders were never closed.
You could say that Decree-Law n° 171/74, of 25 April, was a true "emergency solution".
In the ensuing period in Portugal, attempts at organisation were made and this Security Service has to be a reflection of this.
As in many other organisations, one of the most sensitive changes was the new name.
In November 1974, the Directorate for Foreign Nationals Service (Directorate de Serviço de Estrangeiros – DSE) came into being.
Decree law n° 215/74, of 22 May, replaced the Judiciary Police by the General Command of the Public Security Police (Polícia de Segurança Pública – PSP), in the control of foreign nationals in Portugal, the issue of passports to foreign nationals and the issue of reports on applications for visas to enter the country, while the Fiscal Guard continued to monitor and control borders.
The PSP became aware of the enormous volume of work involved in this area of internal security, as well as the enormous volume of work it had inherited. It also realised that, gradually, it had to deal documenting or updating documentation on foreign nationals in Portugal.
Consequently, with the attributions clearly defined in the same Decree-Law of 22 May, it became obvious that this Service had to become a separate one within the PSP.
This was how the Directorate for Foreign Nationals Service (Directorate de Serviço de Estrangeiros – DSE), came into being in the General Command of the PSP, through Decree-Law n° 651/74, of 22 November.
Development and stabilisation
Two more years elapsed in looking for the best solutions, and during this time everything was built up using the different experiences of a team of men and women selected because of their experience.
In this way the Service was built up and gradually it began to take shape and was structured to the extent that in June 1976, it was given administrative autonomy through Decree-Law n° 494-A/76, of 23 June. Once again, the name was changed and the service became known simply as Serviço de Estrangeiros - SE.
And it remained as the Servico de Estrangeiros (SE) for 10 years.
During these 10 years institutions were stabilised, and as government policy settled and took shape in this particular area, the problem became ever clearer that Law 494-A/76, chapter I - Article 2, sub-paragraph a) was not being put into practice because the SE should also have been responsible for controlling the "entry "of foreign nationals to Portugal, among other missions.
The solution that was found in 1974, when the Security Forces already installed at borders were given control of persons wishing to cross these borders, proved for this Service geared to controlling foreign nationals in Portugal to be not only damaging to the normal sequence of many investigations and measures, but also, at the very least, highly irregular.
And this indeed was the opinion of successive Governments until, in 1986, Decree-Law n° 440/86, of 31 December, restructured the SE, which then became known as SEF -Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras, which, in form, meant that the letter of the law did in fact consider the service responsible for border control, although, in practice, at the time, the human resources available had not been prepared for doing this "in loco.".
Hence the co-operation between SEF and the Fiscal Guard which, never having ceased to function, became far more active as from 1986.
Gradually, from 1 August 1991, SEF was able to begin to replace the Fiscal Guard at border posts.
Although we are still partners and work in co-operation, as members of the Security Forces and Services laid down in the law on Internal Security (Law n° 20/87, of 12 June), for SEF this phase of collaboration in which for 15 years we worked together to provide the country with this service to the best of our ability, will go down in SEF “History”.
However, faced by the challenges of a New Europe the services were also forced to renovate.
The Directorate of SEF saw some intense activity in several sectors, without overlooking the renewal of legislation, which made this the Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras of a country with an external EU border, the guarantor that Portugal would meet the commitments assumed as a Member State of this new Space, part of the Schengen Agreement, which Portugal joined in June 1991, and in the preparatory work before joining SEF was thoroughly involved.
In renewing legislation, Law 120/93, of 16 April 1993, made some changes to the Organic Law underlying SEF. However, the real global restructuring of the service, to help it respond better to its current size, both in material and human terms, as well as to be able to meet the new responsibilities assumed, only began with publication of Decree-Law 52/2000, of 16 October, which approved its new organic structure and defined its attributions.
The “History” of this SEF will not be completed here and, more than ever, the pages of the SEF story are open and ready for new and important procedures.