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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Portugal Seeks Immigrants to Boost Population

"In the interior territories, we will manage to stop the loss of population," said Ana Abrunhosa, the Minister for Territorial Cohesion. (Photo by Miguel Baltazar)


Portugal’s rural interior suffered significant population loss over the past 10 years, which the government must help counter with a welcoming immigrant policy to meet planned project investments, said the Minister of Territorial Cohesion.

Overall, Portugal registered a 2 percent decrease to 10,347,892, according to preliminary results of the 2021 Census released by the Institute of Statistics (INE) on July 28. Nearly 50 percent of the population is concentrated in 31 of 308 municipalities in the greater metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Porto.

It is the first time since 1970 that the country has lost population, according to Expresso (July 28).

Nationwide, the municipality of Barrancos (Beja District) had the greatest loss of 21.8 percent, followed by Tabuaco (Viseu District) with 20.6 percent, and Torre de Monorvo (Bragança District) with 20.4 percent, according to the 2021 Census.

In Coimbra District, Arganil’s population dropped 8.9 percent from 12,145 in 2011 to 11.067 in 2021; Tabua’s population decreased from 7.5 percent from 12,071 to 11,163, and Oliveira do Hospital’s population fell 6.9 percent from 20,855 to 19,421, according to the 2021 Census.

In Guarda District, Seia suffered an 11. 9 percent drop from 24,702 to 21,759. And in Viseu District, Carregal do Sal’s population dropped 8 percent from 9,835 to 9,048.

Ana Abrunhosa, the Minister for Territorial Cohesion, spoke to reporters at the Habitat of Business Innovation in Strategic Sectors (HIESE) in Penela (Coimbra District). She said that the preliminary census results are not “a surprise” and reflect a problem that is decades old and one that is not exclusive to Portugal, according to Expresso (July 28).

“We lost population, which is worrying, not only in the interior but throughout the country, and we only gained population in two areas,” said Abrunhosa, whose ministry was created in 2019. “In order to recover the country’s economy, and with the investment that we plan to make, a large part of this investment has to be made by people we don’t have.”

“As we are in a special period of investment, we are going to need a lot of workers. I believe that this can only be achieved with a very active policy of attracting immigrants and treating them well. . . .

“The fact is that today we have science and technology, which means that we can, with fewer people, continue to occupy these territories.”

Minister Abrunhosa underscored that the country has to be realistic and that, “even with active policies for the birth rate and for attracting immigrants, it is very difficult to recover the population of 100 years ago in the interior territories,” according to Expresso.

“The loss of population in the interior is not (an issue solely) of today, yesterday or the day before yesterday. But one thing is certain, in the interior territories, we will manage to stop the loss of population and not allow these territories to become empty.”

The problem of population loss “is Europe’s” and, in Portugal, “requires collective solutions, not only from the government and local authorities, but also from civil authority,” said Abrunhosa.

In 2015, the European Union experienced the first natural population decline of having more deaths than births with the population expected to decrease significantly in the long run, according to European Parliament News (May 19).

European regions with a rapidly shrinking population experience diminished social services in education, health care and culture; transport; Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and work opportunities, reported European Parliament News.

In 2019, the number of foreign nationals exceeded 500,000 for the first time in Portugal’s history, reported Lusa news agency (January 15, 2020).

Minister of Internal Administration, Eduardo Cabrita, said that 580,000 foreign citizens were living in Portugal, up from 490,000 in 2018. He added that the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) also issued 135,000 new residence permits in 2019, up from 35,000 in 2015.

The number of Nepali and French immigrants has grown the most from 2008 to 2018 with the number of Nepalis increasing 21 times and the number of French four times, according to data released from the database, Pordata, and reported by Lusa.

The number of Indians, Spaniards, Chinese and British immigrants almost doubled in the same 10-year period, according to Lusa. The largest foreign community is still Brazilian (one in four), followed by Cape Verdean, Romanian and Ukrainian.

A demographic trend in the European Union is a sharp population decline, especially in Eastern and Southern Europe due to the combination of intra-EU migration from these areas and low fertility rates, according to European Parliament News (May 19).

European depopulated areas often are poor and rural or post-industrial with few jobs. Young skilled workers contribute to the exodus. The free movement of workers is one of the freedoms of the European Union. The economic crisis of 2008 led to young professionals from Southern and Eastern Europe moving to Northern and Western Europe.

“The COVID-19 crisis is likely to encourage this trend,” reported European Parliament News. “Reduced economic activity and unemployment are expected to generate a new wave of migration by young people both within and between EU countries.”

In 2020, 68,209 Portuguese emigrated, 25,886 of whom left permanently, according to Pordata.

Meanwhile, 14 percent of the native-born population of Portugal lives in other countries, behind New Zealand’s native-born emigrants (14.1 percent) and Ireland’s (17.5 percent) reported the World Economic Forum (August 15, 2019) from the intergovernmental Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OCED's) 2014 figures.

“The Regressar scheme offers former residents who have lived away for at least three years incentives to move back,” according to the World Economic Forum (August 15, 2019). “Those who do will have their income tax bills halved for five years. And there’s cash to help with relocation for anyone who takes a job.

“Portugal already gives investors and job creators the right to live in the country. It offers tax breaks for skilled migrants too. But the new program wants people back even if they’re not highly skilled or well-paid.”

European Parliament members urged the demographic challenge to be an EU priority, alongside climate issues and the digital transition, reported European Parliament News (May 19).

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