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“It’s time to come home!” Portugal begs emigrants to return

emigrants portugalPortugal has had an exceptional experience with emigration and immigration for several hundred years. As renowned navigators they set sail to open up world markets hundreds of years ago. The Portuguese settled in all continents from Brazil in the Americas all the way to East Timor in Asia including large parts of Africa in between. In particular, until the late 20th century Portuguese descendants lived in large numbers in Angola and Mozambique.

Since the Carnation Revolution of April 25th, 1974 that heightened democracy in Portugal and shortly afterwards lead to the independence of the Overseas Territories in Africa, the Portuguese who resided in these countries were subsequently expelled back to Portugal, a land they had never known that was supposed to be their home country. They were called “retornados”, or returnees. Although they spoke the language, the resettlement was a painful process. Portugal experienced severe economic setbacks as the new arrivals took time to integrate.

It was not until Portugal joined what is now the European Union in 1985 and began receiving “Cohesion Funds” to encourage economic development that Portugal pulled itself out of an economic canyon. In the meantime, the more developed countries of Europe, received thousands upon thousands of Portuguese immigrants, so much so that in the early 1990s many French people joked that Paris was the largest Portuguese city in Europe.

More recently, the global financial and economic crisis that broke out just over a decade ago hit Portugal very hard. As growth faltered and unemployment rose sharply, emigration once again took off.

This time Portugal was losing its best workers, as highly educated young people went abroad in search of work. Today, an estimated 20 percent of its population resides abroad according to World Bank calculations. Remittances sent home are of significant sustenance to Portuguese families and to the country’s economic stability. In the first six months of 2019 alone, the Bank of Portugal reported that remittances received amounted to 1.95 billion euros, an increase of 15 percent from the previous year.

After a period of austerity to rein in huge government deficits and a government debt, the Portuguese economy has finally recovered. As reported only a few weeks ago, the Portuguese economic growth is expanding faster than the Euro Area average – at 1.8% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2019 versus 1.1% for the EA – labor shortages have begun to appear, especially in agriculture and manufacturing. The overall unemployment rate, which had doubled to 16.4% in the five years leading up to 2013, has since declined to 6.5% as of July 2019, below the 19-member Euro Area average of 7.5%.

An influx of immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe has been filling some of the cracks in the job market but not completely. In July the Portuguese government launched a program called Regressar (“To Return”) offering incentives to Portuguese nationals working abroad, especially those with professional, technical and other advanced skills, to return home.

The government has set up a colourful web site that urges Portuguese nationals abroad to come home. The opening reads: “It’s time to come back home. Your country will assist your return.” (É Hora de Voltar a Casa! O Seu País Apoia o Seu Regresso.)

The site spells out a number of incentives the government is willing to offer. To qualify, a Portuguese national working abroad must be able to show that they emigrated prior to December 2015. They and their family members, including those born abroad, are eligible to return to Portugal beginning this year and until December 31st, 2020.

To enable repatriation a worker must prove that he or she has secured a permanent work contract with a company in Portugal. To facilitate this process, the government has established a dedicated portal with job offerings. There are tax advantages too. Income taxes would be reduced by 50% for a five-year period.

For more entrepreneurial Portuguese people with new skills and innovative ways of doing business who would like to set up a new operation upon return to Portugal, the government will offer financial support. Some assistance with relocation expenses is available also. For the entire program the government has budgeted 10 million euros for this year alone, expecting to attract at least 3,000 returnees.

Interestingly, the Government was quite explicit in stating the true intentions for wanting its nationals to return home. There is a need for workers not only to fill jobs and bring in new skills, but also to help fill government coffers with social security contributions to pay for a rapidly aging population.

Pushed forward by emigration of working age men and women in the past, Portugal’s population began to decline several years ago. While a few other European countries are also experiencing population shrinkage, Portugal seems to be the first to deal with the problem with the novel program of enticing its people abroad to return home.

Although working and living abroad has personal economic advantages, attachment to one’s homeland always gives rise to nostalgia and a yearning to go back. The Portuguese even have a special word for that: saudade.

However, this feeling must be weighed against the reasons for moving away in the first place: job opportunities, higher wages, etc. This will be a challenge for Portugal as average wages and salaries are well below the EU average.

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-4 #2 Peter Booker 2019-09-10 10:15
"Since the Carnation Revolution of April 25th, 1974 that heightened democracy in Portugal…" Heightened is a strange word to use in this context, Ed. Do you mean re-introduced, after the experiment of the dictatorship?

It was in the 1960s that Paris became the city in Europe with the most numerous Portuguese population, except Lisbon of course. This phenomenon came about as a result of the "salto", meaning those Portuguese who emigrated to escape the effects of the Salazar dictatorship to achieve better salaries; more political freedom; and avoidance of conscription. Emigrants went to many countries in Europe, but most went to France, and to Paris in particular.

As far as "retornados" are concerned, Portuguese inform me that the term should be applied only to those who had emigrated to Mozambique and Angola during the period of the Estado Novo. These people both emigrated and returned in one lifetime.

In contrast, those whose forefathers had emigrated, and who were second or third generation settlers in Africa, see themselves as different from those who emigrated during the Salazar era.

It is these second and third generation settlers who, when they arrived in Lisbon, were threatened with execution by the left wingers of the MFA.
+9 #1 Peter D 2019-09-09 22:26
Can't understand why any
entrepreneurial Portuguese people with new skills and innovative ways of doing business would ever consider coming to a country with the laws, bureaucracy and business culture currently existing in Portugal.

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