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Portugal: Procedure for granting asylum; the time involved in processing claims; rights granted to asylum seekers

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 27 October 2003
Citation / Document Symbol PRT42118.FE
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Portugal: Procedure for granting asylum; the time involved in processing claims; rights granted to asylum seekers, 27 October 2003, PRT42118.FE, available at: [accessed 21 May 2023]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Second Report on Portugal of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, made public in November 2002, provided the following information on the procedure for granting asylum in Portugal.

Law No. 15/98 [attached] superseded Law No. 70/93 and established new legal rules on asylum.

The asylum application procedure is divided into two phases, an admissibility phase and an admission phase. In the former, the applicant is required to file an application within a period of eight days with the Aliens and Frontiers Service (SEF), which notifies the Portuguese Council for Refugees (PCR) [Portuguese Refugee Council (PRC)], an independent, non-governmental organisation responsible for helping asylum seekers... . The SEF is required to make a decision on admissibility exactly twenty days after the application is filed. If the application is rejected by the SEF, the applicant may request a review by the National Commissariat for Refugees. In the event of a negative decision, the applicant can appeal to the administrative court. However, the lodging of such an appeal does not have a suspensive effect... .

Upon successful completion of the admissibility phase, the procedure enters the admission phase. The applicant is issued with a temporary residence permit entitling him or her to work and receive medical assistance in the same way as Portuguese nationals. The application for asylum is then assessed by the National Commissariat for Refugees and commented on by the PCR, with the Ministry of the Interior having the final say. In the event of a negative decision, the applicant can file a suspensive appeal with the Administrative Supreme Court.

Where the application for asylum is filed at border posts, and in particular airports – as is most often the case – , Law No. 15/98 provides for a special fast-track procedure. Persons applying under this procedure are kept in the international zone of the airport or port concerned. A holding centre was recently set up in the international zone of Lisbon airport for persons in the admissibility phase.

. . . [C]ontrary to legal provisions in force, applicants in the admissibility phase – who are not allowed to work – are not in practice guaranteed free legal aid and free medical treatment. ... [S]ome asylum seekers resort to working illegally while still in the admissibility phase, in order to support themselves. ... [A]ppeals to the administrative court do not have a suspensive effect, which means that the appellant can be deported. Should this happen and should the application for asylum subsequently be accepted, the individual concerned might not be able, for example, to afford to return to Portugal. Also, even though it takes nine months on average, and in certain cases has taken two years, for the administrative court to decide an appeal, asylum seekers are in practice not entitled to appropriate social or medical assistance during this period and are not allowed to work. They are thus totally dependent on help from voluntary organisations and may be tempted to work illegally (ECRI 4 Nov. 2002, 13–14).

According to a report on the rights of refugees in Portugal, published on the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights (LCHR) Website, "[t]he Aliens and Border Service, under the Ministry of Home Affairs, has the authority to detain asylum seekers arriving at ports of entry" (LCHR 2002). Asylum seekers arriving at Lisbon airport are therefore detained for a maximum of five days while a decision is made on their admissibility to the asylum-granting procedure (ibid.). If a decision is not made within this time, the asylum seekers held at the airport must be released and allowed to enter Portuguese territory (ibid.).

The LCHR report also indicated that once asylum seekers have entered Portugal, they may be housed at a single reception centre run by the Portuguese Refugee Council (PRC) for a maximum of two months (ibid.). Asylum seekers admitted to the determination procedure are generally provided with financial assistance by the state for a period of four months (ibid.). "The PRC also provides emergency social assistance, including clothing, bus tickets and a stipend for food, usually until a first instance decision is given" (ibid.). Furthermore, asylum seekers have access to medical care through the national health service, which is funded partly by the PRC and the state (ibid.).

A 2002 report on refugees in Portugal of the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) stated that, under Portugal's 1998 asylum law (whose French version is attached), the Aliens and Borders Service (SEF) determines an asylum seeker's admissibility to the normal asylum procedure. According to this report,

The 1998 asylum law authorizes the Portuguese authorities to reject the asylum claims of applicants who arrive via "safe third countries." ...

Applicants whose cases are found inadmissible may appeal to the National Commissioner for Refugees, which has 48 hours to make a decision. If the decision is negative, the applicant may appeal to the administrative court within eight days. ...

[N]egative decisions in the second instance may be appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court. Filing an appeal does not automatically suspend an applicant's deportation (USCR 2002).

Quoting information obtained from the PRC, the report indicates that most asylum claims are denied at the admissibility phase because claimants lack proof of identity or citizenship (ibid.). Claimants who are considered admissible by the SEF receive a temporary residence permit, which is valid for two months and renewable monthly, until a final decision is made (ibid.). This temporary residence permit gives asylum seekers the right to work in Portugal, and entitles them to free legal counselling, medical care, and assistance from humanitarian organizations (ibid.).

For more information on the legal and social status of asylum seekers in Portugal, please consult the attached documents.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). 4 November 2002. Second Report on Portugal. [Accessed 22 Oct. 2003]

Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights (LCHR). 2002. Refugee Rights in Europe: Portugal. [Accessed 17 Oct. 2003]

U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR). 2002. "Country Report: Portugal." [Accessed 17 Oct. 2003]


Danish Refugee Council. n.d. "Portugal: Legal Conditions." Legal and Social Conditions for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Western European Countries. [Accessed 17 Oct. 2003], 8 pp.
_____. n.d. "Portugal: Social Conditions for Asylum Seekers." Legal and Social Conditions for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Western European Countries. [Accessed 17 Oct. 2003], 3 pp.

Portugal. 26 March 1998. "Loi 15/98 du 26 mars : établit un nouveau régime juridique en matière d'asile et de réfugiés." (Documentation and Comparative Law Office) [Accessed 17 Oct. 2003], 17 pp.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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