Portugal has a long-standing tradition of being a country of emigration.
Presently, Portugal is also a country that hosts thousands of foreign citizens coming from a wide range of geographical origins. The Portuguese economy grew remarkably after Portugal's accession to the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1986. With the sponsorship of the EEC's cohesion and structural funds, and also of foreign direct investment, sectors like telecommunications and civil engineering, and also domestic services, industrial cleaning and accommodation expanded and consequently needed a considerable amount of workers. Since the demand for labour was higher than the domestic supply, the immigration of foreign workers was seen as a viable solution.
Immigration inflows grew considerably throughout the 1990s. In 2000, the inflows of foreign population in Portugal reached a maximum of almost 78 thousand individuals (by the year 2000, the stock of foreign citizens – 208 thousand individuals – accounted for two percent of the total resident population). Throughout this decade, Portugal never stopped being a country of emigration, but the outflows subsided from 37 thousand people in 1991 to about ten thousand in 2000 (Fig. 1). The first decade of the new century was characterized by decreasing immigration due to the slowdown of the country’s economic performance, with a very slight growth of inflows in the 2007-2009 period. With the financial crisis that led to a great recession,
Origins of the immigrant population
In the early 1980s, immigrants mainly came from former Portuguese colonies in Africa such as Cape Verde, Angola, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Príncipe. Due to the growing internationalization of the economy in the 1990s, an increasing number of immigrants from Brazil and Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Moldova and Russia) arrived in Portugal. Since 2010 the number of immigrants from Asia has been on the rise with Chinese, Indian and Nepalese as the largest groups (Fig. 2).
While in 1980, foreign citizens accounted for 0.6 percent of the total resident population in Portugal, the share of foreign nationals reached 2.0 percent in 2000 and climbed to 4.2 percent by 2010. In 2020, the 662.095 foreign citizens living in Portugal made up 6.4 percent of the country's population. The five largest communities in the country are Brazilians (27.8 percent of foreign nationals), British nationals (7.0 percent), Cape Verdean citizens (5.5 percent), Romanians (4.5 percent) and Ukrainians (4.3 percent), according to the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras, SEF). Nationals from EU member states (EU27) (158.588) account for 24 percent of the total number of foreign citizens.
Portugal is known for its relatively liberal immigration policy, including refugee reception and integration.
Portugal's migration policy is based on international standards laid down e.g. in international conventions such as the Convention relating to the status of refugees. It is also influenced by EU directives which Portugal transposes into the national legislation, for example with regard to refugee reception. However, migration policy in Portugal has largely remained a realm shaped by national legislation. Thus, the Portuguese legislative authority decides on regulations for the entrance, stay and departure of foreigners such as the issuing of visas, regularizations (that is the granting of a legal status to immigrants who previously stayed in the country illegally) and the rights and duties of foreign citizens. The most recent law governing migration policy entered into force in 2007 (Law 23/2007). It defines the conditions foreign citizens have to meet in order to be allowed to immigrate to Portugal and to be granted a temporary or permanent residence permit. Recent amendments to the law have facilitated immigration of foreign citizens wishing to work, study, invest or conduct scientific research through specific visas. The growing relevance of temporary activities (e.g. in agriculture, tourism, civil construction) led to the introduction of a new short-term visa for seasonal work. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020/21, the Government decided to waive the indicative overall quota for third-country nationals’ employment opportunities for subordinated work that exists in sectors such as farming, the hotel and restaurant industry, wholesale and retail trade and construction. Moreover, a temporary regularization was established for immigrants living in the country illegally who submitted their documents for regularization between March 18th 2020 and April, 30th 2021 in order to facilitate their access to public services.