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MIGRATION: Big Investor? Welcome to Portugal

Mario de Queiroz

LISBON, Aug 29 2007 (IPS) - Portugal’s new immigration law has drawn fire from foreign workers’ associations, who accuse the authorities of favouritism towards university graduates and those who have plenty of money to invest in the country.

Local activists and leaders of immigrant workers’ associations condemn the new legislation because it does not create a mechanism for the Interior Minister to regularise the situation of some 150,000 undocumented immigrants living in Portugal.

The law, which was approved by parliament in May and entered into force this month, defines the conditions and procedures for entry, residence and deportation of foreign nationals.

A new provision, which has taken the associations by surprise, is the automatic right to a permanent residence visa for foreigners who come to Portugal to start a business.

People with money “will have an easy ride, but for the rest who haven’t, who come to Portugal looking for a better life, little or no progress has been made,” Jair Santos Pereira, a Brazilian who works in a Lisbon restaurant, told IPS.

However, those who bring in only a small amount of capital will not find things as easy as Santos thinks. An analysis of the new rules, published by the newspaper Diario de Noticias a few days ago, says that “what the law defines as ‘entrepreneurial immigrants’ is not what is understood by ordinary people.”

On the one hand, it is a tautology, because a person who “decides to cross borders and run risks is, by nature, enterprising,” but on the other hand, a Chinese immigrant, for instance, who sets up a shop cannot benefit from this legislation, the article says.

It says that “the idea of the law is to attract large investors to Portugal, who bring their own money or have bank loans.”

For independent workers, Diario de Noticias points out that the law only allows fast-track legalisation, without endless red tape, “for the liberal professions,” meaning university or higher technical institute graduates.

Portugal’s new legislation puts it closer to the paths followed for decades by countries like Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, which have made the most of the energy of immigrants for the development of their societies.

Portugal today has a population of 10.2 million, of whom 420,000 are legal immigrants and another 150,000 are undocumented immigrants, according to estimates by non-governmental organisations. This gives Portugal one of the highest ratios of immigrant to native population in the European Union (EU).

With a work force of 5.8 million people, of whom 9.9 percent are foreigners, immigrants are an important factor in filling the coffers of a state which does not hesitate to levy contributions from the undocumented, although the authorities call them “illegal.”

This is precisely the root of the harshest and most frequent criticisms voiced by the immigrant associations, because Portuguese governments, whether of the left or the right, recognise 150,000 foreign workers as legal for internal revenue purposes, as they pay taxes and social contributions, but block their access to permanent residence.

“It’s not right for a civilised country, which is a member of the EU, to have foreign workers who are legal in the eyes of the Finance Ministry but illegal in the view of the Interior Ministry, while making it impossible for them to regularise their situation,” engineer Carlos Vianna, the president of the Casa do Brasil (Brazil House), told IPS.

Figures released this month by the High Commission for Immigration and Intercultural Dialogue (ACIDI) indicate that the numbers of Brazilian immigrants have grown most in Portugal, rising by nearly 900 percent between 1986 and 2003, and continuing to increase in later years.

The workers coming from Brazil, which has a population of 188 million and is the largest Portuguese-speaking country in the world, are increasingly younger and less educated.

The study shows that the country’s 64,295 Brazilian legal residents are now the largest foreign community living in Portugal, outnumbering traditional immigrants from Portugal’s former colonies in Africa – Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Sao Tomé and Príncipe – and the more recent influx of Ukrainians, who began to arrive in this country early this decade.

However, Eduardo Tavares de Lima, president of the Casa do Brasil’s General Assembly, estimates that there are actually some 120,000 Brazilians living in Portugal.

The other 60,000 Brazilians “are either children or grandchildren of Brazilian immigrants who obtained Portuguese nationality, or undocumented immigrants,” Tavares de Lima told IPS.

The Brazilian community in Portugal is a mix of young unskilled or semi-skilled workers willing to work for low wages in cleaning, construction, tourism and hotel jobs, and highly qualified professionals and technical people, especially doctors, dentists, engineers and advertising and computer experts, the ACIDI study says.

The vast majority are from rural areas and small towns in the states of Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Bahía, Paraná, Espírito Santo, Goiás and Pernambuco. They now live mainly in Lisbon and in the northern regions of Porto, Aveiro and Braga.

Positive aspects of the new law, according to the Platform of Representative Structures of Immigrant Communities in Portugal, include efforts to cut red tape and to make it easier for students to regularise their immigration status. In addition, it keeps Portugal open to new residence applications from foreign nationals.

However, “at the same time it tends to increase the discretionary powers of the Aliens and Borders Service (SEF),” the representatives said.

The law also stiffens fines for employers who hire undocumented immigrants, penalises marriages of convenience, and creates stronger provisions to combat human trafficking and illegal immigration.

Igor Klashin, a Ukrainian who heads the “Edinstvo” (Unity) Association of East European workers, declined to comment on whether the law is “favourable or unfavourable.”

“But we did hope that it would increase opportunities for immigrants who are already in Portugal,” and thus prevent them from leaving for other EU countries to join the ranks of the undocumented workers who wander the continent, he said.

Among the 27 EU member countries, Spain, Italy and Malta argue that the main problem is posed by African migrants landing on their coasts. They want the rest of the bloc to help them solve the problem.

In May, Frontex, the new European border management agency, came to the aid of Madrid and patrolled the ocean between the African coast and the Canary Islands, in order to dissuade migrants.

However, only four EU countries – Finland, France, Italy and Portugal – agreed to contribute to Spain’s efforts to prevent the arrival of the African migrants, who daily take to the sea in fragile boats.

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