Development & Aid, Europe, Headlines, Human Rights, Migration & Refugees, Population

PORTUGAL: Nationality Extended to Second and Third-Generation Immigrants

Mario de Queiroz

LISBON, Feb 16 2006 (IPS) - A new law approved Thursday by the Portuguese parliament which extends the right of nationality to second- and third-generation immigrants is a key step in fighting the social exclusion suffered by many of the roughly 600,000 immigrants and their descendants living in this southern European nation, according to parties along the political spectrum as well as non-governmental organisations.

Up to now, the offspring and grandchildren of immigrants have been denied Portuguese nationality, even though they were born in Portugal, generally speak only Portuguese, studied in Portuguese schools and have never lived outside of the country.

But the new legislation submitted by the government of Socialist Prime Minister José Sócrates and approved by the great majority of the 230 members of Portugal’s single-chamber legislature changes all that.

>From now on, the grandchildren of immigrants will have a right to Portuguese citizenship if one of their parents was born in Portugal, and the children of immigrants will have the same right even if neither parent was born in Portugal, as long as one of their parents has lived in this country as a legal resident for at least five years.

Lawmakers from the governing Socialist Party and the opposition Social Democratic Party (conservative despite its name) and Communist Party voted in favour of the new law.

Members of the Left Bloc – a coalition of Trotskyist, Maoist and other radical leftist groups – abstained from voting as they had pressed for more flexible legislation, while legislators from the right-wing Party of the Social Democratic Centre abstained because they had called for greater restrictions.

The previous law was not based on children’s place of birth, but on the origin and nationality of their parents. It also granted certain advantages to immigrants from former Portuguese colonies.

Under the old legislation, citizens of the Portuguese-speaking nations of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guineau Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tomé and Principe and East Timor, as well as those born under Portuguese rule (until 1961) in Goa, Diu and Damão in India, or in Macao, which was handed over to China in 1999, had to live in the country as legal residents for six years in order to obtain Portuguese citizenship.

Meanwhile, foreign nationals from all other countries had to live here as legal residents for 10 years.

The new law makes no such distinctions, and any immigrant will be eligible to apply for citizenship after six years of legal residence – good news for the more than 100,000 Ukrainian workers who constitute the second-largest immigrant community in this country of 10.2 million, after the roughly 120,000 Brazilians.

The law also grants Portuguese nationality to the grandchildren of Portuguese emigrants – a longstanding demand by Portuguese immigrant communities around the world.

Up to now, only the sons and daughters of emigrants had a right to Portuguese nationality. By expanding citizenship rights to third-generation emigrants, the law will mainly benefit the vast communities of Portuguese in Brazil and other countries of Latin America, especially Venezuela and Argentina, where the waves of Portuguese immigration date back decades.

Sócrates described the law as “a civilized step, a huge change towards greater inclusion and integration, insofar as it acknowledges that the sons and daughters of immigrants have the right to Portuguese nationality.”

The prime minister put a special emphasis on the importance of immigrant communities, stating that replacing the principle of “jus sanguinis” with that of “jus soli” “seems to be a step that must be underscored, a step in the right direction and one that responds to the needs of our country.”

Under the principle of “jus sanguinis” (right of blood, in Latin), nationality is determined by the nationality or citizenship of one’s parents, while under the principle of “jus soli” (right of the soil), citizenship is granted to children born in Portugal whose parents were also born here, but whose grandparents were foreigners.

Minister of the presidency Pedro Silva Pereira told reporters that the new law will take into account “people who are well-integrated into Portuguese society, who were born on Portuguese soil, and who were denied access to Portuguese nationality for unjustifiable reasons.”

He added that the government “has taken a cautious stance” by limiting this access only to second-generation immigrants with at least one parent who has lived as a legal resident for five or more years in Portugal, because “the new law must not assist illegal immigration,” he added.

Anabela Rodrigues, a Portuguese lawyer of Cape Verde descent who heads a cultural association, lamented that the new law would not apply to those who were just two or three years old when they immigrated to Portugal, and whose parents remained undocumented.

But she said she was pleased that the legislation sets a six-year period of legal residence for all immigrants, “thus putting an end to discrimination among immigrants.”

Rodrigues also applauded the elimination of what she called “the money factor.” She was referring to the current requisite that those applying for citizenship after six years of legal residence must demonstrate that they are able to support themselves, which she said effectively discriminates against poor immigrants.

High Commissioner for Immigration and Ethnic Minorities Rui Marques said some of the limitations put in place by the new law are “the price to be paid for consensus,” because “this law is better than a more progressive one that has less public support.”

In his view, the legislation is “an excellent example of a search for a broad consensus on immigration policy,” a matter that has created deep divisions in other European countries. “The new legislation goes as far as I believe is reasonable,” he added.

Marques, who is in favour of the full integration of the sons and daughters of immigrants, says that fomenting “social exclusion always leads to an explosion, it is just a question of time, which means it is important for a society to be open to everyone.”

In prior negotiations with the Socialist Party, Communist lawmakers were successful in introducing into the bill recognition of common law marriages, one of the main demands by advocates of the rights of immigrants, who frequently live together without marrying.

Republish | | Print |