Portugal Gets High Marks in Immigration Integration While National Discourse Questions the Country’s Immigration Agency

Portugal came in third in a recent survey of how well immigrants integrate into society. While SEF comes under fire and other studies paint a bleaker picture.

Portugal came in third in a recent survey of how well newcomers in the country integrate into society overall, and was ranked first for labor market mobility. But other studies that have emerged around the same time — as well as the headlines around the world about the brutal killing of a Ukrainian national while in the custody of immigration officers — paint a far bleaker picture. 

Portugal received a score of 81 out 100 in the 2019 Migration Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) survey of 52 countries, only behind  Sweden (86) and Finland (85) and followed by Canada (80) and New Zealand (77).

The MIPEX rates countries’ integration policies and the opportunities that migrants have to participate in society, along eight criteria. Portugal received its highest scores in anti-discrimination (100), labor market mobility (94), family reunification (87), and access to nationality (86). The country ranked number one in labor market mobility, is alongside Germany and Nordic countries. 

The report considers Portugal to have a comprehensive integration policy, one where both migrants and citizens benefit from equal rights, opportunities, and security. 

This finding is in stark contrast to the current national debate around immigration, particularly as public scrutiny and anger at Serviços de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF – Immigration Services) is at an all- time high following the murder of Ihor Homenyuk while he was detained at the Lisbon Airport by SEF officers.

The agency’s practices have come under fire, and it goes past the use of excessive force by officers at the airport. As a result, more awareness is being brought to the process immigrants go through when applying for residency. The Portuguese Bar Association has brought complaints forward to the ombudsman for what they characterize as “serious violations by SEF to the rights of citizens,” Expresso reports.

The Lisbon’s Regional Council of the Bar Association told Expresso that while immigrants have rights on paper, “in practice, people have to wait years for a residence permit, and that negates their rights.”

Further, figures for 2019 pertaining to the integration of immigrants in the country made available by Portada, a Portuguese database, say that 3% of the country’s workforce are foreigners, according to Díario de Notícias. Considering that only 5.7% of the population are foreigners, this statistic is not proportionally low. However, figures also indicate that immigrant populations experience a higher unemployment rate, and in 2019 immigrants experienced 12% unemployment, while the national rate was 6%.

A separate study, published by the Observatório das Migrações (OM), point to immigrants being predominantly employed in low-paying sectors, such as hospitality,  or other service activities and have lower wages than Portuguese nationals, according to Renascença.

The study shines light on the difficulty immigrants face in accessing housing, stating that 25% live in overcrowded conditions and have more difficulty to buy a home than Portuguese citizens. Lastly, it draws attention to the risk low-income immigrants run of being socially excluded.

The MIPEX did point out that Portugal had much room to improve in the areas of education, health, and access to permanent residence. 

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