top of page
  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Portugal: Number of Foreign Residents Rises for 6th Year

Updated: Jun 28, 2022

Geographical distribution of foreign residents (From Immigration, Borders and Asylum Report 2021) published by Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF)


Despite the deceleration of growth caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the foreign resident population increased in 2021 for the sixth consecutive year, with a rise of 5.6% compared with 2020, totaling 698,887 foreign citizen holders of a residence permit, the highest number recorded by Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) since its inception in 1976.

However, those numbers are not enough to stop the aging of the population, and "urgent" action needs to be taken to stem emigration, said migration specialists in Expresso (December 18, 2021) in response to the provisional results of the 2021 Census.

Brazilians remained the largest foreign resident community, representing 29.3 percent of the total, the highest value since 2012, according to the annual Immigration, Borders and Asylum Report (Relatorio de Imigraçao, Fronteiras e Asilo) (RIFA) May 2021 published by Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF).

The United Kingdom maintained the second-largest foreign resident community, despite a 9.3 percent decrease compared with 2020.

New residence permits for European Union citizens accounted for about half of those issued (50.5 percent).

“The sustained growth of foreign citizens from European Union countries confirms the particular impact of the attractiveness factors already mentioned in earlier years such as the perception of Portugal as a safe country as well as the tax advantages arising from the regime for the non-habitual resident,” read the Immigration, Borders and Asylum Report.

At the end of 2020, there were foreign citizens of 187 countries with residence permits living in Portugal: 204,694 from Brazil (39,456 of which were new permits) 41,932 from the United Kingdom (417 new); 34,093 from Cape Verde (3,889 new); 30,819 from Italy (5,302 new); 30,251 from India (7,407 new); 28,911 from Romania (1,039 new); 27,195 from Ukraine (1,158 new); 26,719 from France (4,754 new); 25,802 from Angola (1,356 new), and 22,782 from China (7,407 new), according to the Immigration, Borders and Asylum Report.

Portugal has a population of 10.3 percent, according to the 2021 Census.

India climbed four places and now occupies fifth place, surpassing France, China, Ukraine and Romania. Italy, which occupies the fourth position, confirmed notable growth in recent years.

From the Americas, aside from Brazil, Venezuela led with 8,296 citizens (1,231 of which were new permits); the United States with 6,885 (2,475 new); Colombia with 1,690 (395 new); Canada with 1,271 (245 new); Cuba with 1,264 (200 new); Argentina with 813 (212 new); Mexico with 699 (148 new); Ecuador with 469 (176 new); Chile with 409 (96 new); Costa Rica with 94 (25 new); Guatemala with 79 (19 new); Honduras with 58 (20 new); St. Kitts and Nevis with 46 (11 new); Dominica with 20 (3 new); Jamaica with 17 (3 new); Haiti with 14 (5 new); Antigua and Barbuda with 12 (1 new); Belize with 4 (0 new); Barbados with 4 (0 new); Bahamas with 4 (4 new); St. Lucia with 3 (1 new), and Bermuda with 2 (1 new).


The age range of foreign residents (From Immigration, Borders and Asylum Report 2021)


The potentially active population represented 76.4 percent of foreign residents, with a preponderance of those aged 25 to 44 (321,798), according to the Immigration, Borders and Asylum Report.

The most relevant reasons for granting new residence permits were professional activity (35,886); family reunification (20,718), and study (10.919).

Considering representative nationalities in the migratory flow, particularly with regard to developing nations, there was a strong preponderance of professional activity in nationalities from Asia, according to the Immigration, Borders and Asylum Report.


865 ARI temporary residence permit holders invested 460,816,183.84 euros in capital and property. Citizens of China topped this list followed by those of the U.S., Brazil and Russia.


ARI (Authorization of Residency for Investment Activity)

The special regime of residence permit for investment activity, known as ARI (Authorization of Residency for Investment Activity), allows obtaining a temporary residence permit provided that a set of requirements defined in the Immigration Law and in the regulatory instruments is verified.

In 2021, there was a favorable decision of 865 ARI and 1,171 referring to family reunification. By the end of 2021, 814 first residence permits had been granted to investors and 1,092 to family members, according to the Immigration, Borders and Asylum Report.

Citizens of China were at the top of the ARI list followed by those of the United States, Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa, Turkey, Lebanon, Pakistan and Iran.


Within the scope of SEF’s powers in terms of granting and acquiring nationality, namely the issuance of an opinion on the certification of the length of residence in Portuguese territory, there is a break in the growth trend in the number of requests to acquire Portuguese nationality.

In 2021, the SEF registered 54,288 requests for an opinion on the acquisition of Portuguese nationality, a decrease of 21.3 percent compared with the previous year. A total of 47,278 opinions were issued: 46,855 were positive and 423 negative.

Brazil Equality Statute

With regard to the Statute of Equal Rights and Duties within the scope of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Consultation between Portugal and Brazil (2000), 10,451 equality statutes were prepared: 10,351 corresponded to requests for equality of rights and duties and 100 to requests for equality of political rights.

In 2021, there was a significant increase in the number of Brazilian citizens who applied for equal status (38.8 percent) confirming the trend observed since 2016 and representing the highest value in the past 10 years.


With regard to asylum seekers, 68.4 percent of requests were submitted by males; the age group of 19-39 represented 56.3 percent, and 87.9 percent of applicants were under 40 years of age.

In terms of recognition of international protection status, there were 228 refugee statuses granted (77 in 2020) and 78 refugee authorization titles granted residence by subsidiary protection (17 in 2020). In both cases, nationals predominated from Asian countries.

“In terms of trend analysis, particularly with regard to granting refugee status, we observed a sharp growth, compared with the previous year (196.1 percent). In the granting of residence permits for subsidiary protection, there was a much sharper growth (358.8 percent) compared with the previous year,” according to the Immigration, Borders and Asylum Report.


Where Are Foreign Residents Living

The geographical distribution of foreign residents remained focused mainly on the coast, with 66.8 percent registered in the districts of Lisbon, Faro and Setubal, totaling 466,779 as compared with 450,074 in 2020.

"Urgent" to Create Conditions to Decrease Emigration

Joao Peixote, a migration specialist, said that there is a need for a concrete immigration policy, in Expresso (December 18, 2021).

“Portugal is facing a perfect storm with very few births and a level of departures of Portuguese that is still substantial,” said Peixote, who is a professor at the Lisbon School of Economics and Management. “Despite everything, we are managing to attract foreigners. Without them, the whole country would be in a situation of demographic suicide as is already happening in some regions of the interior.”

Despite being “a balm”, the arrival of immigrants will never be enough, by itself, to stop the aging of the population, said Peixote.

According to Expresso:

“Portugal would need more than 75,000 entries per year to be able to maintain the same volume of working-age population in the coming decades, a figure that is considered unrealistic,” according to a 2017 study.

“Therefore, it is necessary, at the same time, to stem the departure of Portuguese, who continue to emigrate significantly. In 2019 alone, it is estimated that 77,000 have emigrated. They are mostly young people, many qualified, and the majority end up not returning. And the future is not rosy, considering that almost a third of young people intend to leave the country," according to a survey by the Francisco Manuel dos Santos Foundation, released in November.

The researcher, Joao Peixote, said: “It is urgent to create conditions so that the level of emigration is not so great. And this implies, for example, fighting youth unemployment and precariousness, and raising wages.”


“When analyzing the evolution of the foreign population in Portugal, it is important to take into account several aspects, particularly the Portuguese economic and social contexts and those of the countries of origin, legislative evolution; historical and cultural relations; impacts of the operation of immigration policies; and phenomena with continental or global implications, such as armed conflicts, environmental disasters or pandemics,” read the Immigration, Borders and Asylum Report.

1,476 views0 comments


bottom of page