Analysis

Portugal’s New Immigration Measures: Strategic Focus on Continuing to Attract Foreign Talent

Dr. Laura Madrid Sartoretto
Madrid

In June 2024, the Portuguese government unveiled an ambitious set of 41 new immigration measures designed to modernize the nation’s approach to migration and make Portugal a more attractive destination for foreign talent.

Prime Minister Luís Montenegro highlighted that the new proposal is about creating a balanced and efficient system that meets the country’s needs rather than simply opening or closing doors. Central to these measures, which fall under the Second Pillar of the New Immigration Plan, is the goal of attracting highly skilled professionals to bolster the economy and address demographic challenges.

Portugal has become a magnet for foreign workers over the last decade. From 2015 to 2023, the number of foreigners living in Portugal increased by 171%, reaching more than one million foreigners in 2023, according to recent data from AIMA (see numbers in the chart below). To positively impact the attraction of foreign talent, Portugal has implemented several key measures. 

Regarding age groups and the labor market, PRODATA and the INE, in their XVI General Population Census, have also indicated that approximately 55% of the foreign population in Portugal is aged between 25 and 44 years. In contrast, only about 22% of the Portuguese population falls within this age range.

Furthermore, the data indicate an aging trend among the Portuguese population, with 12% being 75 years or older, compared to only 3% of Portugal’s foreign residents. These numbers suggest that Portugal will increasingly need foreign workers to fill job positions that are not being filled by the aging Portuguese population.

According to the Immigration, Borders, and Asylum Report 2022, 42,409 foreigners received authorization for the exercise of subordinate/independent professional activity, accounting for approximately 45% of all visa types granted. In comparison, a significantly lower number – 30,897, or about 33% – were EU nationals, while only 19,345 (21%) received family reunification visas (see chart below). 

The category of “exercise of subordinate/independent professional activity, with exemption from residence visa” in Portugal encompasses professionals who can perform subordinate activities (working as employees) or independent activities (self-employment) without the need to obtain a prior residence visa. It includes various professionals such as IT and technology workers, healthcare professionals, engineers and architects, academics and researchers, financial services professionals, entrepreneurs and business owners, and so on.

These data indicate that visa policies implemented in the past, such as working visas and the Golden Visa in Portugal, have already facilitated the integration of skilled workers into the Portuguese job market. The necessity for such integration remains significant, especially considering the aging Portuguese population.

All these numbers demonstrate that Portugal needs and is committed to continuing to attract skilled workers from abroad to both stabilize the pension system and foster development and growth. To pursue this aim, the New Migration Action Plan has established three key measures to address labor force shortages in the country. These measures include simplifying the recognition of foreign qualifications, promoting professional training for immigrants aligned with the country’s labor market needs, and enhancing support for the integration of foreign professionals into the local workforce.

These initiatives are designed to ensure that Portugal remains competitive in attracting the right talent necessary to sustain its economic growth and demographic balance.

From a more general and structural perspective, the government has terminated the Expressions of Interest procedure, a significant bureaucratic hurdle, to simplify and expedite the immigration process, making it more appealing for qualified professionals.

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Additionally, the establishment of a Mission Structure to resolve over 400,000 pending processes demonstrates Portugal’s commitment to addressing its immigration backlog and improving the system. This initiative aims to expedite procedures, providing applicants with greater security and more accurate time forecasts, thereby enhancing their confidence in the system and making Portugal a more attractive destination for relocation.

The new immigration plan emphasizes recognizing foreign qualifications and competencies. Historically, recognizing foreign titles in Portugal has been a complex and time-consuming process. Applicants often faced bureaucratic delays, inconsistent evaluation standards, and a lack of clear guidelines, which hindered their ability to work in their respective fields.

Although the Direção-Geral de Ensino Superior (DGES) adopted regulations in 2019 to harmonize and accelerate the recognition process, practical improvements are still necessary. Simplifying this process is crucial for quickly integrating foreign professionals into the Portuguese labor market. By recognizing their credentials more efficiently, Portugal can tap into the skills of immigrants and address critical labor shortages in sectors such as healthcare, technology, and engineering.

According to a study from the European Employment Services, the unemployment rate has decreased among almost all professional groups, driven by a GDP growth of 6.8% in 2022, followed by stable 2% growth yearly. Statista predicts that Portugal will continue to grow at this rate at least until 2029, but a shortage of labor force in some areas might impact this growth.

Portuguese companies face particular difficulties in recruiting workers in several fields:

  • Information and communication technology;
  • contact centers/business support centers and shared service centers (including roles in sales, administration, human resources, accounting, and management control), especially professionals with very specific language skills that are difficult to find in Portugal;
  • healthcare (doctors and nurses with different specializations);
  • hotels, tourism, restaurants, bars, and cafés;
  • agriculture (seasonal employment), particularly fruit and vegetable picking;
  • construction (plumbers, electricians, and other skilled tradespeople); and
  • renewable energies (project development, installation, and maintenance). 

Knowledge of Portuguese is unnecessary for vacancies in call centers and shared service centers, as the working languages are English and the relevant native languages. There are also opportunities in the information technology sector for people who do not speak Portuguese. However, Portuguese language skills are essential for the remaining positions, particularly in occupations involving contact with the public.

This highlights the importance of free and high-quality Portuguese courses to help integrate foreigners into the labor market and society as a whole. In this vein, the measures also include a Labor Needs Survey to update available information and better align the supply and demand for foreign workers.

Facilitating access for foreigners to Portuguese universities is another crucial measure in addressing labor market gaps and promoting the integration of migrants within local communities. This facilitation involves streamlining the homologation of high school education and providing the necessary means for international students to live and study in Portugal.

By increasing the number of foreign students, Portugal enhances its educational sector and establishes a continuous influx of young, skilled professionals. This strategic initiative not only prepares these students to meet the specific needs of the Portuguese labor market but also fosters a smoother integration process as they build connections and familiarity with local communities. Consequently, many of these students may choose to remain in Portugal after graduation, further contributing to the nation’s economic growth and societal cohesion. 

Related to labor inclusion, the new measures’ emphasis on simplifying the recognition of foreign qualifications is also intrinsically linked to the promotion of professional training for foreign citizens, which is a cornerstone of Portugal’s updated immigration policy. By aligning training programs with the country’s labor market needs, Portugal aims to ensure that immigrants are well-equipped to contribute effectively to the economy.

This approach not only addresses existing skill gaps but also leverages the expertise and education that foreign professionals have acquired abroad, expediting their entry into the Portuguese job market. This is particularly crucial for filling positions mentioned above in sectors where Portugal faces workforce shortages.

Recommendations for Fostering Talent Attraction in Portugal:

  1. Leverage Technology and Direct Communication
    Speed up and use technology to streamline immigration processes and establish a direct line between immigrants and the Agency for Migration and Asylum Integration (AIMA) to provide updated and reliable information about their application processes.
  2. Enhance Education and Training Programs
    Collaborate with international universities and institutions to offer specialized courses and certifications in high-demand fields such as technology, healthcare, and engineering. This will ensure that both local and foreign workers possess the necessary skills to meet the country’s labor market needs.
  3. Strengthen Public-Private Partnerships
    Encourage collaboration between the government, the private sector, and civil society to create initiatives that support the integration and retention of foreign talent. This could include mentorship programs, networking events, and career development services tailored to the needs of immigrants.
  4. Foster a Welcoming Culture
    Promote cultural exchange and diversity through community programs and events that celebrate diverse cultures. Establish support networks for immigrants, including language classes and cultural orientation, to help them integrate smoothly into Portuguese society.
  5. Focus on Key Professions
    Target immigration policies towards professions that are most needed in Portugal, such as healthcare professionals, IT specialists, engineers, and educators. Provide specific incentives and streamlined processes for these professionals to attract and retain them in the country.

These measures can significantly boost the Portuguese economy and ensure the smooth integration of migrants into local communities. However, concrete actions are necessary to address bureaucratic bottlenecks and facilitate the entry and integration of foreign talent.

In a world where skilled workers increasingly leverage global mobility to choose where they live and work, Portugal must lead with streamlined legislation and tax-friendly policies to attract people. Although Portugal already excels with its favorable conditions – such as good weather, beautiful beaches, rich culture, excellent cuisine, and friendly people – further efforts in legislative and fiscal areas will solidify its position as a premier destination for foreign talent.

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Dr. Laura Madrid Sartoretto AuthorSubscriberParticipant
Research Lead & Project Manager , Global Citizen Solutions
Laura Madrid Sartoretto holds a PhD in International Migration and an LL.M in Public International Law from University College London (UCL). She is an expert in Project Management with additional training in data analysis and AI. Laura has participated in research projects at the University of Bremen and Cornell University and has served as a consultant for international organizations, including the OIM, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank. An expert lawyer in migration law, she has published extensively on the subject. Currently, Laura leads the Global Intelligence Unit at Global Citizen Solutions.
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