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PORTUGAL: "Foreigners" in Their Land of Birth No More

Mario de Queiroz

LISBON, Jul 15 2005 (IPS) - Africans who have never set foot in Africa, Brazilians whose only knowledge of Brazil comes from TV or the stories of their parents and grandparents: these are Portugal’s so-called second- and third-generation immigrants, who are not actually immigrants at all.

But despite being born and raised in Portugal, they are still legally classified as foreigners.

Most are the children and grandchildren of workers who came to Portugal from Portuguese-speaking former colonies like Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe and East Timor, who have been joined over the last 15 years by immigrants from eastern European countries like Ukraine and Moldavia.

Portugal is the only country they have ever known, but under current Portuguese law, they are foreigners in their land of birth.

“Citizenship is not just a minor detail. Being a foreigner in the only country you know can lead to an identify conflict,” analyst Alexandra Correia noted in a study published this week in the Portuguese magazine Visao.

The release of Correia’s study of second- and third-generation “immigrants” in Portugal coincided with a government announcement of changes in the country’s citizenship law.

The current legislation is based on the principle of “jus sanguinis” (right of blood, in Latin), whereby nationality or citizenship is determined by the nationality or citizenship of one’s parents.

The government of Socialist Prime Minister José Sócrates, who took office in March, plans to introduce the principle of “jus soli” (right of the soil) for third-generation immigrants, meaning that Portuguese citizenship will be granted to children born in Portugal whose parents were also born in Portugal, but whose own parents were foreigners.

This particular procedure was chosen to prevent people from coming to Portugal on tourist visas and giving birth here specifically in order to claim Portuguese citizenship for their children, which would be “an invitation to backdoor immigration,” according to Minister of the Presidency Pedro Silva Pereira.

Because of Portugal’s membership in the European Union, (EU) “a passport is not just Portuguese, it is European, and we have a responsibility towards our fellow members,” added the minister, whose portfolio includes matters related to immigration policy, while immigration itself is controlled by the Ministry of the Interior.

The adoption of the proposed reform is considered a foregone conclusion, since the Socialist Party holds an absolute majority in the country’s unicameral parliament.

Silva Pereira hopes the change in legislation will serve as “a major contribution to strengthening integration,” and described it as “a question of social justice and peace.”

He explained that the right to citizenship will also extend to second-generation immigrants whose parents are from a Portuguese-speaking country and have legally resided in Portugal for at least six years with a residence permit.

For those from other countries, the procedures are more complicated. The minimum requirement is ten years of legal residence, a status that can be acquired after spending five years in the country with “permission to stay” status. This is an intermediate category that was created in the early 1990s to control the heavy influx of immigrants from eastern Europe.

The government also plans to speed up the resolution of pending cases in the agency responsible for immigration matters, the Service for Border Control and Aliens (SEF). Requests for a residence permit, for example, can currently take up to three years, due to the “agonisingly slow” bureaucracy involved, said Silva Pereira.

The SEF is also facing a major backlog in the processing of requests for citizenship. Of the nearly 5,000 applications submitted in 2004, less than one half have been resolved, despite the fact that this number is almost insignificant compared to the 400,000 legally documented immigrants living in Portugal.

The vast majority of the requests are from immigrants from Portuguese-speaking African countries. Cape Verde heads the list with 1,790 applicants, followed by Guinea-Bissau with 1,654, Angola with 475, Sao Tome and Principe with 269 and Mozambique with 109.

There were also 338 requests for citizenship from immigrants from Latin America, of whom 293 are from Brazil. This relatively small number is due to the fact that most of the 100,000 Brazilians living in Portugal have parents or grandparents with Portuguese citizenship and can become citizens themselves through a simple formality that takes between one week and one month.

According to Portugal’s leftist opposition parties, the government-sponsored bill for reform of the country’s citizenship law – which will be submitted to parliament shortly – reflects a certain amount of progress in the integration of immigrants.

But Communist Party lawmaker Antonio Felipe maintains that “many second-generation cases will not be resolved, because of the strict criteria.”

While the Communists advocate the extension of the “jus soli” principle to the Portuguese-born children of legal residents, the Left Bloc – a coalition of Trotskyist, Maoist and other radical leftist groups – goes even further, demanding the automatic right to citizenship for “anyone born in Portugal, regardless of the status of their parents.”

In the meantime, the country’s two right-wing opposition parties have yet to weigh in on the matter, although both say they plan to discuss it internally, taking into account the situation in the rest of the EU.

The principle of jus sanguinis is applied in most of the bloc, but four of the 25 member countries have adopted the jus soli principle with regard to the children of legally documented immigrants.

France has the most liberal policy in all of the EU. To become a citizen, it is enough to be born in French territory or to reside in the country as a documented immigrant for five years and speak French.

Children born in Germany to immigrants can acquire citizenship if their mother or father has lived in the country for at least eight years, has integrated into German society, and speaks German.

In the Netherlands, citizenship is granted automatically to third-generation immigrants, and to second-generation immigrants whose parents have lived there for five years, have integrated into society, and speak Dutch.

Spain has flexible criteria for immigrants from some Latin American countries, Portugal and the Philippines, who can apply for citizenship after residing in the country legally for two years.

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