In her public school in central Lisbon, the Brazilian Valentina, 7, has friends from France, Amelia and Chloé, Angolan Policarpo, Indian Dhanraj, as well as Portuguese, Nepalese, Cape Verdean and other children from Brazil.
Portuguese classrooms, filled with students of different nationalities, reflect the increased presence of foreigners in the country. In 2020, Portugal reached a new historical record: 707,848 resident immigrants were regularized, or 7% of the population of around 10 million.
There was a 19.9% increase over 2019, which had already been expressive growth.
The figures, still provisional, were communicated by SEF (Foreigners and Borders Service) to the newspaper Público.
The breakdown by nationality is not yet public, but, as in previous years, Brazilians represent the largest share of foreign residents. In 2019, the officially resident Brazilian community increased by 43% compared to the previous year.
In the assessment of demographer Pedro Góis, professor at the University of Coimbra, the real number of foreigners is even greater, as official statistics do not take into account immigrants who obtain Portuguese nationality.
“The number will be over 7%. At this stage, it will probably be between 9% and 10% of the total population, ”he estimates.
Although the figures show an increase in immigrants even in the context of Covid-19, Góis stresses that they correspond to a pre-pandemic scenario, as they refer to requests normally submitted several months before their implementation by the migration agency.
The closure of borders for those who do not have legal residence or citizenship in a member country of the European Union, and the subsequent cancellation of all commercial flights between Portugal and Brazil – in effect since January 29 – will very likely interrupt this growth cycle, the researcher assesses.
One of the oldest countries with the lowest birth rates in Europe, Portugal is increasingly dependent on immigrants, who already represent 8.5% of social security contributions.
It is also because of immigration that Portugal has not seen its population decline over the past decade. Besides the thousands of Portuguese who still migrate each year, especially to the UK and other EU members, the number of deaths continues to exceed births in the country for the past 11 years.
Besides security, universal access to public health and a good education system, Portugal has the relative ease of legalization – and subsequent acquisition of nationality – as a major attraction, even for those who remain in an irregular situation.
“I think that’s the main attraction: not staying hidden for long years. To have the possibility of legalization here ”, evaluates Pedro Góis, of the University of Coimbra.
Regardless of regularization, immigrants often have difficulty entering the labor market, especially in more skilled positions.
A report by the ILO (International Labor Organization), published in December 2020, places Portugal as the sixth country with the largest pay gap between foreigners and nationals.
Figures for 2019 show a 28.9% pay difference between immigrants and Portuguese for the same type of work. The gap has widened compared to 2014 and 2015, when it was 25.4%.
President of Casa do Brasil, an NGO that helps immigrants in Portugal, Cyntia de Paula considers that, although Brazilian immigrants are now arriving better informed about the reality of the country, the difficulty of entering the labor market still surprises many people. after the change.
“We realize that when people come from Brazil, there is no clear knowledge of the difficulty of entering the qualified market in Portugal. There is an idea that it will be easier than it actually is. Access to professional orders [entidades que regulam as profissões], or to see your CV recognized for access to qualified positions, ”he adds.
He acknowledges that there are exceptions, such as professions related to the field of information technology, but says that many newcomers still have “a vague idea of the Portuguese labor market”.
Episodes of discrimination and xenophobia often take new immigrants by surprise, according to Cyntia.
“There is this psychosocial problem, the experience of prejudice and xenophobia. We feel that there is a discovery only when they are here, they are little known when they are still in Brazil. It is the xenophobia of everyday life, unfortunately, discriminatory problems that permeate the lives of Brazilians when they are in Portugal, especially Brazilians, ”she assesses, who says she has an increased perception of hate speech against migrants and ethnic minorities. during the pandemic.
In October 2020, several schools and universities in the Lisbon region were spray painted with racist and xenophobic messages, including inscriptions such as “zucas [brasucas], go back to the slums ”.
Even before the pandemic, complaints of discrimination were on the rise in the country. According to data from the Commission for Equality and Against Racial Discrimination, complaints of xenophobia filed by Brazilians more than doubled between 2017 and 2019.
Discrimination by Brazilian nationality motivated 17% of complaints received by the agency in 2019.
The good news, in the opinion of the president of the NGO, is a better knowledge of the rights of migrants, who have increasingly mobilized and participated in events and political discussions in the country.