Portugal Unveils Sweeping Immigration Reform Plan with 4 Pillars and 41 Initiatives

The Portuguese government announced a landmark Action Plan for Migration on June 3rd, outlining a comprehensive approach to immigration reform. This ambitious plan addresses longstanding issues and aims to attract skilled talent through 41 concrete initiatives across four key pillars.

Some highlights of the measures:

Streamlining the System and Ending 400,000 Backlogs Applications

One of the most pressing concerns addressed is the backlog of over 400,000 pending applications (over 90% are of ‘Manifestation of Interest’). The plan proposes a dedicated task force to tackle this backlog, alongside measures to strengthen consular response capacity. 

“Manifestation of Interest” will be phased out

Manifestation of Interest (MI) served as a popular pathway for foreign nationals seeking residency permits in Portugal.  It is mainly for those that arrived initially with only a tourist visa, but at the end opted to settle in Portugal.  If they found a job and pay social security for 12 months, they are able to apply for residence permit.  

The Portuguese government recently declared that henceforth, the regularization of undocumented immigrants will be terminated.  For those coming to the country seeking employment, it will be mandatory to present a job-seeker visa for Portugal or have a work contract in place and apply for the work visa.  This decisive measure, ratified by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa on June 3, 2024, signals a significant shift in immigration policy.

We largely welcome this new policy.  The large number of undocumented immigrants posed a challenge to the administrative of government in processing large number of applications and social challenges with undocumented immigrations that have limited background check.

Focus on Skilled Talent and Integration

Recognizing the need for skilled labor, the plan seeks to attract foreign professionals by streamlining qualification recognition and offering scholarships for international students. Integration efforts will focus on language training, access to healthcare, and professional opportunities for immigrants.

A New Golden Visa Option – Social Investment

A noteworthy aspect is the creation of a “Social Golden Visa” option, a new option channeling private investment towards social investment for immigrant integration projects, for social impact alongside economic benefits.  It must be also underlined that the Government thus assumes the usefulness of the Golden Visa program as a tool to gear foreign direct investment for the development of projects that will benefit the country and tackle some of the country’s burning issues.  And with this new option, maybe along the line of various form assisted or social housing. 

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In Details

This Action Plan shows that the Government (finally…. and hopefully) is taking seriously the growing complains targeting 4 different areas:

  • Immigration Regulation
  • Attracting foreign talent
  • Integration of Immigrants
  • Institutional Reorganization (ie. AIMA, previously known as SEF)

The Government presented 41 measures with hopes to facilitate and ease pressures of the current situation in which it finds itself.

Pillar 1: Immigration Regulation

Refine immigration regulation, streamline application approval processes and enhance border control.

1.  Phasing Out Manifestation of Interest: The popular but controversial “Manifestation of Interest” procedure will be terminated with a transitional period. 

2.  Strengthened Consular Response: Main consulates will receive increased resources to improve processing capacity, particularly for work permits and seasonal migration. 

3.  Prioritized Channels: Family reunification, young students, and qualified professionals will benefit from streamlined visa and residence permit procedures. Additionally, procedures for granting visas to citizens of Portuguese-speaking countries (CPLP) will be simplified. 

4.  Tackling Backlogs: A dedicated task force will be established to address the backlog of over 400,000 pending applications. 

5.  Modernized Border Control: Urgent investment will be made in border control infrastructure, IT systems, and databases.

6.  Enhanced Border System: Portugal will work towards implementing the European Entry/Exit System (EES) by October 2024 and the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) in 2025. 

7.  Addressing Congestion: Measures will be taken to reduce high levels of congestion and delays at major airports.

8.  Enhanced CPLP Mobility Agreement: Efforts will be made to promote easier access to the Schengen Area, extend expired residence permits, and streamline procedures for visa applications for CPLP citizens. 

9.  Fulfilling Commitments: Portugal will prioritize fulfilling its commitments to resettle and relocate refugees and asylum seekers. 

10.  EU Migration Pact Implementation: A National Plan will be developed and implemented to align Portugal with the European Union’s Migration and Asylum Pact. 

11.  Temporary Accommodation: Increased temporary installation / accommodation centres.

12.  New Temporary Installation Centre: ensuring centres get legal and civil society support.

13.  Appeal Process Speed: Procedural mechanisms will be established to expedite judicial appeals processes related to immigration and asylum, as well as processes for assessing the regularity of entry and stay. 

14.  Repatriate System Efficiency: Measures will be taken to ensure the return system is efficient, humane, and effective.

15.  Combating Abuses: A multi-force inspection team will be created to combat human trafficking, illegal immigration,labor exploitation, and human rights violations.

16.  Audit of Language Training: The linguistic training and evaluation processes regarding Portuguese language for obtaining Portuguese citizenship will be audited. 

Pillar 2: Attracting Foreign Talent

Attract foreign students and talent and high-skilled workers to Portugal

17.  Human Capital System: A system will be established to attract skilled workers based on Portugal’s identified needs. 

18.  Qualification Recognition: The process of recognizing foreign qualifications and competencies will be improved.

19.  Professional Training: Programs will be promoted to support the professional training and qualification of foreign citizens, both inside and outside Portugal. 

20.  Labor Needs Survey: A regular Labor Needs Survey will be conducted to ensure a better match between foreign worker supply and demand.

21.  Attracting Students: Scholarships and initiatives will be offered to attract and support foreign students in Portuguese universities, fostering integration. 

Pillar 3: Immigrant Integration

increase the success on professional and social integration of foreign citizens, the promotion of the access to the Public Healthcare Service to all the residing citizens and to strengthen the supply of Portuguese language courses.

22.  Increased Reception Capacity: Places for asylum seekers and refugees in reception centers will be increased. 

23.  Increase Specialized Residential Units: for emergency reception of unaccompanied minors.

24.  Increase Accommodations: Increase temporary and urgent accommodation for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

25.  Professional Integration: Initiatives will be implemented to promote the professional integration of immigrants into the national labor market. 

26.  Municipal Emergency Centers: Municipalities will be encouraged to cooperate in creating emergency reception centre for immigrants. 

27.  Integration Projects: Integration projects will be implemented in critical neighbourhoods under municipal coordination. 

28.  Language Training: The supply, coverage, and frequency of Portuguese language courses for non-native speakers will be strengthened. 

29.  Multilingual Resources: Communication materials and guidelines will be made available in multiple languages, including functional Portuguese. 

30.  Education Equivalences: The process of granting equivalences in basic education will be simplified. 

31.  Healthcare Access: Measures will be taken to promote and manage access to the National Health Service for immigrants. 

32.  Social Investment Visa: A new “Social Golden Visa” option will be created to channel private capital towards social investment projects promoting immigrant integration. 

Pillar 4: Institutional Reorganization

Further restructuring of government departments to improve the competencies and efficiency of immigration governing and servicing organizations.

33.  Foreigners and Borders Unit: A dedicated Foreigners and Borders Unit will be created at Public Police Force

34.  Restructuring of AIMA: Restructuring of AIMA’s competencies and internal organization.

35.  Increase Efficient of AIMA: Strengthen AIMA’s human and technological resources, creating an incentive for productivity and performance, guarantying the quality control.

36.  New Responsibility of AIMA: Transfer the responsibility for in-person service residence renewal permits from IRN (Notary and Registries Office) to AIMA.

37.  Increase Services: Expansion of the in-person service available for immigrants to request their sectoral identifiers numbers (NIF, NISS, NNU).

38.  Restore the Migration Observatory as a State body to inform public policy.

39.  Redefine Council for Migration and Asylum autonomous, as a consultative body to the Government.

40.  Strengthen Financial Support: for immigrant and civil society associations operating in the sector.

41.  Strengthen proximity responses through Local Support Centers for Migrant Integration.

Long-Awaited Reforms

Prime Minister Luís Montenegro acknowledged the need for a balanced approach, stating, “Portugal will not have the doors wide open but it will not have them closed either.”  We are delighted to see that the government is finally addressing some of the burning issues.  This plan represents a significant step towards addressing the challenges of immigration and fostering a more welcoming and efficient system.

Looking Ahead

While the full impact will take time, the plan is a positive development for applicants currently facing delays.  The specific details and timelines of certain measures, such as the Social Golden Visa, remain to be seen. We will continue to monitor the legislative process and provide updates as they become available.

We have helped more than 500 families on their Portugal Golden Visa journey. 

We are also the pioneer firm to help clients to invest through funds back from 2020 until now. Come talk with us.

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