Drop in the Immigrant Population

In 2010, as a result of the economic crisis, the size of the foreign population living in Portugal decreased for the first time since the beginning of the 1980s (SEF 2012, p. 15; OECD 2012, p. 262). Immigration dropped by 12% in comparison to the previous year to 30,000 new arrivals (OECD 2012, p. 262). The migration balance totaled a mere 3,815 people.

October 2008: Protesters in Portugal denounce new immigration laws in the European Union. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

According to data from the Portuguese foreigners’ registration office, SEF, at the end of 2011, 436,822 foreign citizens with a residence permit lived in the country, which was 1.9% less than the year before. Almost half (47.9%) of the immigrants came from Portuguese-speaking (lusophone) countries, mostly from the former Portuguese colonies of Brazil, the Cape Verde Islands, Angola and Guinea-Bissau (SEF 2012, p. 15). Brazilians made up the largest immigrant group, numbering 111,445 people. However, this number has dropped, compared with the previous year, by 6.6% (-7,918). The size of other migrant groups also decreased: the number of immigrants from the Ukraine (48,022) sank by 3% (-1,487), from the Cape Verde Islands (43,920) by 0.1% (-59) and from Angola (21,563) by 8.2% (-1,931) compared to 2010. Only the number of immigrants from Romania (39,312) rose by 6.7% (+2,482) in the same period of time (SEF 2012, p. 17f.)

Emigration of Portuguese Citizens

In the course of the economic and Euro crises, whose effects have been noticeable in Portugal since 2008, the unemployment rate in Portugal rose rapidly (INE 2012c, p. 75; PORTADA 2012). According to the national Institute for Statistics, INE, the unemployment rate climbed to 15.8% at the end of 2012 and to 39% in the age group of 15-25 year olds (INE 2012b). The drastic austerity program of the Portuguese government under Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho (PSD—middle right) and the high unemployment is currently compelling more and more people to leave Portugal. Against the backdrop of the crisis, migratory directions have distinctly changed, partly reversing themselves. Whereas for a long time Portugal was an important country of destination for migrants from the former Portuguese colonies, in recent years more and more Portuguese are emigrating to Angola, Brazil and Mozambique (PUBLICO 2012). The Portuguese embassies and consulates in Angola registered the Portuguese population growing from 60,000 in 2008, at more than 74,600 in 2009, to 91,900 in 2010 (Observatório da Emigração 2012c). A similar, if also numerically lower trend can be deduced from the consulate registry in Brazil, where the population born in Portugal grew from 406,242 (2010) to 425,449 (2011). While the number of Portuguese that immigrated into Brazil in 2010 totaled 798, in 2011 there were twice as many, numbering 1,564 people (Observatório da Emigração 2012e). The Portuguese population has also grown in Mozambique since 2008 (16,556) and comprised 21,114 people in 2011 (Observatório da Emigração 2012i). All three countries are presently experiencing an economic upswing, have significantly lower unemployment rates than Portugal and are looking for specialists (PÚBLICO 2011). In 2011, about 80% of the Portuguese that sought their fortune outside the EU immigrated to Angola (Diário de Notícias 2012). According to the state secretary of the community of Portuguese-speaking countries, José Cesário, in 2012 between 25,000 and 30,000 (5,000 to 10,000 more than in the year before) Portuguese immigrated to Angola and 2,500 to Mozambique (Observatório da Emigração 2013).

At the same time, according to the Observatório da Emigração (OE), which was founded in 2008, Portuguese immigration to the USA, Canada and Australia decreased (Observatório da Emigração 2012d; 2012f; 2012h). The OE reports that the Portuguese immigration into traditional countries of destination inside the EU grew until 2007 – totaling 59,912 people going to Spain, Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland – but decreased owing to the economic crisis to 53,710 in 2008 and eventually down to 43,225 in 2011 (Observatório da Emigração 2012g). This general decline, it is to be assumed, is a result mainly of the strong decrease of immigration to Spain (2007: 27,178, 2008: 16,857, 2010: 7,678, 2011: 7,424) (Observatório da Emigração 2012k), which has also been strongly affected by the financial and economic crisis (cf. contribution about Spain in this dossier). In contrast to this, migration from Spain to Great Britain (2008: 12,980, 2009: 12,230, 2010: 12,080, 2011: 16,350) and Germany (2008: 4,214, 2009: 4,468, 2010: 4,238, 2011: 5,752) increased between 2008 and 2011(Observatório da Emigração 2012a; 2012j). In the first half of the year 2012, the German Federal Office for Statistics, Destatis, registered an increase in Portuguese immigration to Germany which was proportionally relevant (+53% in comparison to the first half of 2011), however moderate in absolute figures (+2,000 people) (Destatis 2012). In total Portuguese migration takes place predominantly in the EU.

Emigration from Portugal by citizenship, 2008 - 2011
Portuguese citizens41444
Foreign nationals2554
Portuguese citizens22127
Foreign nationals1633
Portuguese citizens14138
Foreign nationals2761
Portuguese citizens18462
Foreign nationals1895
Source: Statistical Institute INE [Instituto Nacional de Estatística]

Emigrants by furure place of residence, 2008-2011
Other EU member states28491
Non-EU countries15507
Other EU member states19418
Non-EU countries4342
Other EU member states10409
Non-EU countries6490
Other EU member states14983
Non-EU countries5374
Source: Statistical Institute INE [Instituto Nacional de Estatística]

The total number of migrants from Portugal is difficult to determine. The Portuguese Institute for Statistics, INE, reports that the number of emigrants has more than doubled since 2008 (20,357), recording 43,998 people in 2011 (41,444 Portuguese and 2,554 of foreign nationality) (INE 2012a). The OECD assumes a higher number of emigrants, estimating that since the beginning of the crisis in 2008 more than 70,000 people have left the country each year (OECD 2012).[1] According to this estimation, emigration has reached comparable proportions to the 1960s and 70s (approx. 70,000 per year). However, in comparison to the “guest workers” of the 1960s and 70s, migration expert, João Peixoto (OE), states that the emigrants are younger, more urban and more qualified (Observatório da Emigração 2012b). The changed level of qualification of the emigrants makes the economic relevance of these emigration movements visible: even social groups with high education and living standards sense the necessity to emigrate (Observatório da Emigração 2012g). Because of this, the emigration of Portuguese citizens has become a main object of political discourse. The Portuguese government recommended young people emigrate in an effort to relieve the national labor market and to prevent social tensions (cf. quote by the Portuguese Secretary of State for Youth and Sport, Alexandre Miguel Mestre). The public sharply criticized this behavior and called for an improvement of the work and living conditions in Portugal (RTP Notícias 2010).


Alexandre Miguel Mestre on emigration

"Se estamos no desemprego, temos de sair da zona de conforto e ir para além das nossas fronteiras". Alexandre Miguel Mestre, Secretário de Estado da Juventude e do Desporto

“If we are unemployed, we must leave our comfort zone and go outside our own borders.” Alexandre Miguel Mestre, Secretary of State for Youth and Sport.

Source: RTP Notícias (2011), Secretário de Estado aconselha emigração aos jovens, 31 October. Available at http://www.rtp.pt/noticias/index.php?article=494497&tm=9&layout=121&visual=49 (accessed 2-4-2013)

Perception of Immigrants

In addition to Portuguese citizens, increasing shares of the immigrant population are leaving the country. Contrary to popular opinion, however, no mass return migration into their countries of origin is taking place (IOM 2010). In 2011 1,790 people applied for the voluntary return program (PRV). The majority were Brazilians, followed by Angolans (PÚBLICO 2011). Eastern Europeans have also increasingly decided in favor of returning to their country of origin (Diário de Notícias 2010). In 2011, 594 people returned to their home country with the help of the voluntary return program, mostly to Brazil (500), followed by Angola (25) and the Ukraine (8) (Observatório da Imigração 2012, p. 3).

Differently from the situation, for example, in Greece, the economic crisis appears not to have negatively influenced the behavior of the Portuguese population towards immigration and towards immigrants living in the country. Portugal practices inside the EU a comparatively generous and advanced migration policy (Observatório da Emigração 2012b). In 2009 the UN classified Portugal as a country of open integration policy (PÚBLICO 2010). The Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX III) placed Portugal in second place behind Sweden in the ranking of 31 analyzed countries and stressed that immigrants in Portugal are not considered to be scapegoats, but rather victims of the recession. Consolidation measures and austerity programs by the government have not led to an increasing rejection of immigrants.

Translation into English: Jocelyn Storm


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This text is part of the policy brief on "Does the Crisis Make People Move?".
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The Observatório da Emigração assumes a higher number of emigrants in their estimations. Since 2008 between 25,000 (INE data) and 125,000 (information from the Secretary of State of Portuguese-speaking countries) people of both Portuguese and foreign nationalities left Portugal. The latter number was particularly discussed in the media.

Feline Engling Cardoso

About the author

Feline Engling Cardoso

Feline Engling Cardoso is research fellow at Trutz Haase Social and Economic Consultants. Her research interests include migration movements from and to Southern Europe, migration and security policies, and social policies. Email: feline.engling@googlemail.com

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