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Government toughens migration rules

On Monday, the Government presented its highly-anticipated migration reshuffle, which, among other measures, put an end to the ‘manifestation of interest’ regime, which allowed non-EU migrants to move to Portugal without an employment contract and request residency.

Prime Minister Montenegro said: "Portugal cannot and won’t have its doors shut to welcome those who are looking for opportunities, who have know-how, willingness, often they have what we are lacking."

However, "we cannot fall onto the other extreme, where our doors will be wide open, with no control of who’s coming in, not being with those who seek us out and leave them to their fate."

In a not-so-subtle message to the far-right, he added: "(T)here is no direct relation between taking in immigrants and rising crime rates. There are crimes committed by Portuguese citizens and by foreign citizens and there is no point in stigmatizing the communities that seek us out, using casuistic events. If we do so, we must draw the same conclusions on our citizens". 

A few hours later, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, enacted the changes to the immigration law, bringing them into immediate effect. The President justified the rapid promulgation with the “very urgent” need to “regularize many thousands of pending residence permit processes”.

What does the plan say?

The Government's "Action Plan for Migration" is based on four pillars:

  • Regulated immigration;

  • Attraction of foreign talent;

  • Human integration that works;

  • Institutional reorganisation.

The plan includes 41 measures, of which the main ones are:

  1. End of the 'manifestation of interest' regime: until now, a non-EU immigrant who entered on a tourist visa could present an manifestation of interest to the services and begin the regularization process; from now on, immigrants will require an employment contract or another solution previously dealt through the Portuguese consular network. All the requests already submitted will be processed, as long as they “have been instructed correctly” or have “more than one year of social security discounts”.

  2. Strengthening the response and processing capacity of consular posts: including the reinforcement of 45 elements in 15 priority countries, a list that includes all countries in the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP); the plan also envisages "the creation of dedicated channels (green lane type) at Consular Posts, with a view to achieving greater speed in the processing and issuance of visas".

  3. Transformation of the CPLP visa into a Schengen visa: the plan foresees the transformation of the current mobility visa for CPLP immigrants into a community visa (Shengen), which allows movement around the European Union. The Government will also extend by one year the CPLP visas that begin to expire at the end of this month and will create an online space in the Agency for Migration and Asylum Integration's (AIMA) website for Portuguese-speaking citizens to deal with their your process.

  4. Creation of a task force to solve pending issues: it's well known that AIMA inherited around 400,000 pending regularisation processes, a large proportion of which relate to CPLP citizens, from SEF; the plan also foresees “urgent intervention in existing border control infrastructures, IT systems and databases” and the recovery of delays in the implementation of new border control systems (‘smart borders’). In the document, the executive also commits to developing a “national plan for the implementation of the European Union’s Pact for Migration and Asylum”, with “special attention to the protection of minors in vulnerable situations”.

  5. Attracting foreign skilled workers: the executive will also carry out a “survey of labor needs for recruiting foreign workers"; the plan proposes a “human capital attraction system”, which includes collaboration with “business confederations and associations” to bring necessary workers into the Portuguese economic fabric, although without mentioning any quota policy; the plan also includes the “streamlining and prioritization of immigrant entry channels” for family reunification, young students and qualified professionals, including professional training programs.

  6. Creation of Emergency and Asylum Reinforcement Centers for immigrants: the homeless situation of many immigrants has worried the Lisbon council and the Government, in its integration proposals, envisages “measures that provide incentives to employers”, with “commitments regarding the dignified integration of immigrants”, including housing and professional training.

  7. Creation of a Police "Foreigners and Borders Unit" to monitor migrants: while it's still unclear, it seems that the Govenment seeks to create "a multi-force inspection team to combat abuses related to illegal stay, human trafficking, assistance to illegal immigration, labor exploitation and violation of human rights within the national territory”.

  8. Reorganization of AIMA: removing its powers of instruction and decision-making in return processes; making the Council for Migration and Asylum autonomous; AIMA will now have responsibility for the in-person processing of requests for renewal of residence permits, currently at the Institute of Registries and Notaries (IRN), with this institution concentrating on “the processing and decision-making of all requests for documentation from foreign citizens”; the plan also promises to “strengthen the operational capacity of AIMA, particularly human and technological resources”.

  9. More support for integration policies: reinforcement of support for immigrant associations and non-governmental organizations and more "decentralization of the response to integration and regularization" of processes, through the "opening of new Local Support Centers for the Integration of Migrants in close cooperation with local authorities and civil society entities"; in parallel, the plan contemplates the reinforcement of the "offer, coverage and frequency of teaching Portuguese as a Non-Maternal Language", the "simplification of the process of granting equivalences for the rapid integration of migrant students in basic education" and the promotion of access to National Health Service.

  10. Creation of a new Golden Visa program: the new golden visa is aimed at investments in equipment and projects to support vulnerable immigrants; this new program is also linked to the ‘Construir Portugal’ program for investment in housing at controlled costs or affordable income; the Government also intends to launch a “system of intermediation and accreditation of social investment, namely through the FAMI (Fund for Asylum, Migration, and Integration)”.

What's the political backstory?

The plan's announcement in the week of the European elections suggests that the Government was moved by strategic considerations to present itself as tougher on immigration.

The far-right is rebounding in Portugal following a general election in March, which was won by a slim margin by the rightist Democratic Alliance (AD). The AD is governing without a majority and needs support from far-right party Chega or the centre-left Socialists to pass legislation.

The anti-immigration, populist Chega is the third-largest political party in Portugal, having quadrupled its parliamentary representation to 50 lawmakers.

Chega's leader Andre Ventura said the plan, of which some measures still have to be approved in parliament, did not go far enough, describing it as "weak" and "ineffective".

Under the previous Socialist government, in power for eight years since 2015, Portugal had one of Europe's most open migration regimes, although migrants have long complained about severe delays to obtain residency and other documents.

The delays have left many struggling to access housing and jobs.

Socialist leader Pedro Nuno Santos said the end of the "manifestation of interest" mechanism could lead to problems for those who arrive without a work visa, warning people might be left in a "inhumane situation with no way out".

How many migrants live in Portugal?

Around 800,000 migrants live in Portugal, nearly double from a decade ago. Around 14% of taxpayers are migrants, contributing over 1.6 billion euros to the economy in 2022, while receiving about 257 million euros in social benefits.

Even though migrants make significant contributions, they are more likely to have precarious jobs and lower salaries, according to the Migration Observatory. In a 2023 report, the observatory said some sectors would collapse without foreign workers.

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1 Comment

Unknown member
Jun 07

I entered Portugal via the 'D7' visa type (passive income, self-employed, retiree, etc), where my application for Temporary Residency isn't submitted until after first entry to Portugal. This sounds like at least part of the 'manifestation of interest' regime. So far nothing I've read about last Monday's announcement comes close to having sufficient specificity to inform as to whether this immigration path is to remain, or be somehow changed. As someone who pays several multiples of the minimmum wage in income taxes every year, I would be rather shocked and disappointed if a similar me were to be excluded by this new regime going forward. Any elucidation on this would be appreciated!

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