Country Profiles Portugal

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A. Executive Summary

In the mid-1970s, Portugal began receiving high inflows of migrants from the Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa, notably Cape Verde, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe and Mozambique. From the 1990s onwards, influxes of labour migrants came from Brazil and the Eastern European countries, namely Ukraine, Moldova, Russia and Romania.
Nowadays, the migration flows come not only from the Portuguese-speaking countries, such as Brazil and Cape Verde, but also from European countries, including United Kingdom, Romania, Italy and France.
Migrants represent 9% of the total population and their presence in 2018 in Portugal’s labour market generated an outflow of about €210 million in remittances. Nevertheless, 50% of these migrants take jobs for which they are over-qualified, resulting in a process of deskilling the migrant workforce.
Asylum seekers represent only 1% of total migrants, are predominantly men and come mostly from Sub-Saharan countries. Men from Moldova, Pakistan, West Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, and, to a lesser extent, Latin America are also major victims of human trafficking and exploitation in the agricultural sector.
In 2019, to overcome the problems that migrants, asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking face, the Portuguese government created a pathway for the regularisation of undocumented migrants, giving citizenship rights to those with residency applications already underway. These measures are intended to facilitate labour integration and to provide access to social security and health care, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Also in 2019, Portugal received €3.7 billion in remittances from Portuguese citizens living abroad. Considering that the emigration rate is 20% and that emigration flows include skilled workers, the government has implemented a number of measures intended to stimulate the return of Portuguese emigrants and avoid a brain drain.

B. Country Profile

I. Basic Information

The total area of Portugal is 91,590 km2 and includes the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira, both autonomous regions with their own regional governments. The current (2020) population is 10,184,535 with a median age of 46.2 years. The great majority (66.5%) live in urban areas. Regarding religious affiliation, 81% of the population is Roman Catholic, 3.3% are other Christians such as Adventists, Lutherans or Evangelical Methodists, 6.8% do not belong to any religious group and 0.6% belong to other religions: Islam, Hinduism or Judaism. The Government is a unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic and the current President is Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
II. International and Internal Migrants
Portugal received 888,200 migrants in 2019, an increase in immigration flows of almost 39%. They were mostly between 20 and 64 years old with a majority of women (54%). More than 31% were labour migrants, and almost 33% were family members of people already living in Portugal. Approximately 26% were persons enjoying the right of free movement and residence within the EU. It is also worth mentioning the presence of international students, as 8,400 permits were issued in 2019.
Migrants are mainly from Brazil (45%), Cape Verde (37%), United Kingdom (34%), Romania (31%), Ukraine (29%), China (27%), Italy (25%) and France (23%) and most reside in the main urban areas, namely Lisbon, Faro and Setubal.
Remittances in 2018 amounted to $245 million (about €210 million) because migrants are, for the most part, labour motivated. Although the proportion of foreign workers in the less-qualified groups is 50%, this does not mean that they are unqualified. In fact, migrants typically have jobs that are below their qualification levels, i.e. a de-skilling process. Furthermore, there is a gender difference as migrant women are often subjected to more vulnerable employment conditions. At the same time, they are significantly more involved in irregular forms of work, especially in cleaning, care services and domestic work.
Portugal’s principal entrance points are Lisbon, Porto and Faro and the majority of migrants arrive by air.
The principal problems that migrants face are linked to the difficulty in accessing Portugal’s national health service and finding employment. To solve these problems, in 2019 the government created a pathway for the regularisation of undocumented migrants who had jobs and who had been making contributions to social security for at least one year. Similarly, the government grants citizenship to all migrants who have residency applications underway. These measures are intended to facilitate labour integration and to provide access to social security and health care particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

III. Emigration and Skilled Migration

In 2019, Portugal was listed in the top twenty countries of emigration with a rate of 20% (IOM, 2020). Portuguese emigration is traditionally labour-induced and involves skilled workers. The top five destination countries are France (63%), Switzerland (14%), Spain (9%), United Kingdom (8%) and Luxembourg (3%).
Considering the linkages between this emigration flow and the development of Portugal, it is worth mentioning that in 2019 the country received $4.237 billion in remittances (about €3.7 billion), equivalent to 1.8% of Portugal’s GDP. On the other hand, to stop the brain drain, in the same year the government promoted a new programme to attract Portuguese emigrants who have lived abroad for at least three years. If they returned to Portugal between January 2019 and December 2020, they would benefit, among other measures, from a 50% income tax reduction until 2023.

IV. Forced Migrants (internally displaced, asylum seekers and refugees)

Asylum seekers represent 1% of total migrants. In 2019, there were 1,849 applications, an increase of 45.3% over the previous year. Of the total applications, 195 persons (20.7%) were granted refugee status and 113 received subsidiary protection (12%), while 634 applications were rejected (67.3%). Most were men (73.2%), followed by women (26.8%), children (19.5%) and unaccompanied children (3%).
Regarding unaccompanied children, 46 applications were registered in 2019, and the top five countries of origin were Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Gambia, Senegal and Mali.
The top ten countries of origin of the total applications were Angola (308), Gambia (173), Guinea Bissau (160), Guinea (128), Venezuela (96), Democratic Republic of Congo (82), Nigeria (82), Ukraine (80), Senegal (73) and Cameroon (51). Most applicants have a median age of 29 years.
During the first six months of 2020, the majority of applications were from Morocco (42%), Angola (8%) and Bangladesh (8%).
People asking for asylum are generally escaping from civil wars and humanitarian crises.
The main settlement locations are Lisbon, Porto and Faro.
When in Portugal, forced migrants face high application rejection rates and overcrowded reception facilities. In response to these problems, the Portuguese government is granting citizenship rights to all asylum seekers who have residency applications underway. This should ensure that everybody can access social security and health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

V. Victims of Human Trafficking

In 2019, there were 86 victims of human trafficking, an increase of approximately 46% from the previous year. Of that total, 64 were victims of labour exploitation and 11 suffered sexual exploitation. Most of this exploitation takes place in the agricultural sector where men are the majority of the victims.
The 2020 US Department of State report confirms that Portugal fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is therefore placed in Tier 1.
Most of the trafficked victims are from Moldova; others are from Pakistan, West Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, and, to a lesser extent, Latin America. Labour traffickers exploit foreign victims in agriculture, construction, and domestic service. Furthermore, there are also Portuguese victims who are exploited in restaurants, agriculture, and domestic service, primarily in Portugal and Spain.
Sex traffickers exploit foreign women and children, mostly from Africa and Eastern Europe, as well as Portuguese women and children within the country and in other European countries. Moreover, children from Eastern Europe, including Roma, are victims of forced begging and forced criminal activity in Portugal.
Traffickers sometimes exploit soccer players in labour trafficking and these victims, including some minors, are often from Brazil.
Sub-Saharan trafficking networks increasingly use Portugal as a route into the Schengen area to exploit children for both sex trafficking and forced labour. In Portugal, traffickers obtain false documents before moving the victims to other European countries.
The main problems that people who are trafficked face relate to formal identification as victims of human trafficking, and delays in receiving residency permits once they have been identified as victims. Victims of human trafficking have the right to shelter, health care, and services including psycho-social, legal, translation and interpretation, as well as education and employment training. The government offers victims a recovery period of 30 to 60 days; during this time, they decide whether to cooperate with law enforcement. The law provides for a one-year residence permit for victims who cooperate with law enforcement or those with personal situation regarding their security, health, family situation, or vulnerability. Authorities can renew this permit indefinitely.

VI. National Legal Framework

The Ministry of Internal Administration (MAI) is in charge of the implementation of the laws governing immigration and refugee affairs. The main legislative acts on migration are: Act n. 21/2019; Act n. 27-A/2019; and Act n. 28/2019.
The main legislative acts on asylum procedures are:

  • Act n. 26/2014 of 5 May 2014 that amended Act n. 27/2008, transposing Directives 2011/95, 2013/32/EU and 2013/33/EU
  • Act n. 28/2019 of 29 March 2019
  • Act n. 118/2019 of 17 September 2019
  • Act n. 100/2019 of 6 September 2019
  • Decree-Law n. 153/2019 of 17 October 2019
  • Act n. 114/2017 of 29 December 2017
  • Act n. 35/2014 of 20 June 2014
  • Act n. 93/2019 of 4 September 2019
  • Act n. 2/2018 of 5 July 2018
  • Act n. 32/2016 of 24 August 2016.

The main legislative act on human trafficking is Act n. 102/2019.
Portugal has ratified three of the main international conventions specific to migration governance: the ILO Convention 97 on migration for employment, the ILO Convention 143 on migrant workers. In 2015 it was among the first twenty countries to ratify the ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (Góis, Abecasis, Alfaiate, Hancock, & Lozano, 2019).
In order to better implement the laws governing migration, in 2019 the government amended the Portuguese Immigration Law, creating a pathway for the regularisation of undocumented migrants with jobs, who have been making social security contributions for at least one year. In the same year, an amendment to the Portuguese Nationality Law quickened access to Portuguese citizenship to children born to foreign immigrant parents: at least one parent needs to have been legally residing in Portugal for just two years prior to the birth, down from five years. Furthermore, the Portuguese government is granting citizenship rights to all migrants and asylum seekers who have residency applications underway. All these measures are intended to ensure they have access to social security and health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

VII. Main Actors

The State

The Immigration and Borders Office (SEF) facilitates contact between foreign citizens and SEF, promoting the reception and integration of migrant communities. This service is provided in partnership with civil society entities, through the placement of trained socio-cultural mediators in several languages.
The Anti-Trafficking of Human Beings Unit (UATP) within SEF cooperates with Permanent Reception Centres and the organizations that manage them to ensure ongoing follow-up of victims. It also provides expertise on human trafficking to help victims and the other government units engaged in the fight against human trafficking.
The High Commission for Migration (ACM) is responsible for the management of migration flows,the integration of immigrants and promoting the return of Portuguese emigrants.
Created in 2004 by the ACM, the National Immigrant Support Centre (CNAI) supports immigrants during their process of integration in Portugal particularly with the use of language and translation services.
The Observatory on Trafficking in Human Beings (OTSH) produces, collects, analyses and disseminates information and data on human trafficking and other forms of gender violence.

The Catholic Church

The Portuguese Catholic Migration Service (OCPM) is a body of the Episcopal Commission for Social Pastoral Care and Human Mobility and provides pastoral care and support to migrants and refugees. It was created in 1962 when the Catholic Church felt the need to structure a service to coordinate, accompany and support the work of many priests and other catholic actors throughout the world engaged with Portuguese emigrant communities.
Caritas Portugal is an official organisation of the Bishops’ Conference of Portugal and organises various pastoral care activities, social initiatives and training related to vulnerable populations. Formerly chapters of a single national organization,, diocesan Caritas groups became more autonomous and gained complete independence in 2000. The national union consists of 20 diocesan offices and local groups that provide nationwide coverage. Activities vary according to the diocese as each one responds to different needs: vulnerable children and young people, drug addiction, the homeless, local development and psycho-social support projects.
Since 1992, Jesuit Refugee Service supports migrants and refugees by providing them social, psychological, medical and legal support.
The Pope John XXIII Community has been in Portugal since 2011 and runs a family home.
The Scalabrini International Migration Network in Portugal has a multicultural parish.
The Comissão de Apoio às Vitimas do Tráfico de Pessoas (CAVITP), in Portugal since 2006, helps victims of human trafficking through awareness campaigns. It is part of the network Talitha Kum – UISG.
Salesian Missionaries provide food for the poor; and provide facilities to local civil authorities for use during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo Scalabriniane, in Portugal from the beginning of 1980s, give special attention to sick and needy migrants through the “Hope Project” in the Amora community, supported financially by the embassies of the countries of origin of the migrants.
The Sant’Egidio Community operates a School of Peace in Porto and another in Lisbon, among other activities directed to disadvantaged people.
The Order of Malta also operates in Portugal, supporting poor and marginalised people.
The Centre Father Alves Correia (CEPAC) supports poor and disadvantaged people through a wide range of services.

International organizations

IOM Portugal has been strengthening the relationship with Governments in an effort to support them in managing migration flows and obtaining development gains.
UNHCR does not currently have a permanent presence in Portugal, having closed its office in 1998, but continues to work closely with its partner, the Portuguese Refugee Council (CPR). UNHCR’s overall aim is to support the government in strengthening protection of asylum seekers.

Other organizations

Portuguese Association for Victim Support (APAV) supports all victims of violence through awareness campaigns and providing services for emotional, legal, psychological and social support.
Saúde em Português supports victims of human trafficking through awareness campaigns and shelters for male victims.
Rede Regional do Centro de Apoio e Proteção a Vítimas de Tráfico de Seres Humanos is a network of organizations providing support to the victims of human trafficking.
AKTO – Human Rights and Democracy provides protection, and promotes and intervenes in human rights, democracy and peace contexts.
The Lisbon Project aims to integrate migrants and refugees in the city of Lisbon through programmes of education, employment, legal aid, health and housing.
The Portuguese Council for Refugees (CPR) is the operational partner of the United Nations High Commissioner (UNHCR) for Portugal and develops projects in the areas of welcoming asylum seekers and integrating refugees.

VIII. Other Important Issues

In 2019 the Portuguese government approved the National Implementation Plan for the Global Compact for Migration (GCM n. 141/2019), becoming one of the first countries in the world to approve such a plan.