Blog post by Ana Rita Gil (Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Lisbon) and Maria Mariana Moura (PhD Candidate, NOVA School of Law), and is part of a series of blog posts examining the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
1. Introduction: The Portuguese National Implementation Plan of the Global Compact for Migration as a part of a broader tradition on integration of migrants
Portugal is known as one of the most welcoming nations in Europe, which is mostly due to a favourable normative and policy-based framework on migration. The Portuguese Constitution is deeply grounded on the principle of Human Dignity and on the universality of Human Rights – both of which have deep consequences for the enjoyment of fundamental rights by foreigner citizens. The principle of assimilation, enshrined in Article 15, guarantees that all foreigners and stateless persons who are staying or who reside in Portugal enjoy the same rights and are subject to the same duties as Portuguese citizens – encompassing all fundamental rights, including social and economic rights. Moreover, Portugal has developed throughout the years strong policies to support the integration of immigrants. The country has a governmental body especially aimed at promoting a successful integration of migrants in the territory – the High Commissioner for Migration, and the Portuguese Government also drafts multiannual plans on integration of migrants, where several measures are foreseen to be adopted by different governmental departments. Some of the most important measures encompass access to education and health to children with irregular administrative status. The National Plans for the integration of immigrants have been also advocating the support of immigrants living under conditions of extreme poverty, regardless of their legal status in Portugal. Due to these strategic measures, Portugal has been qualified as the most generous country regarding integration of immigrants by the 2009 Human Development Report of the United Nations, and was elected, in 2015, together with Sweden, the best country for integrating migrants by the Migration Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) report. Furthermore, until 2019, immigration was scarcely discussed in the political debates, and it was not a strongly dividing topic in the society. After that date, a new political party advocating a more restrictive perspective on migration has elected one representative to the Parliament.
The migrant population in Portugal, constitutes slightly more than 8% of the country’s residents. Thus, migration policy intervention is a key feature to the country’s strategic and development plan.
With this background, Portugal has been committed to the process leading to the elaboration of the Global Compact, from its launch to its conclusion, and to the implementation process. Portugal was one of the first countries in the world to approve a National Plan aimed at implementing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). The Plan was approved on 20th August 2019, by the Council of Ministers Resolution n. 141/2019.
The Plan follows the structure of the 23 objectives of the GCM, in order to cover all relevant dimensions of the migratory phenomenon in Portugal. The preamble recognizes that it is conceived as an operational document, oriented towards practical and precise results, and that its objectives and measures are to be accomplished with the cooperation of key international partners. Thus, Portugal adopted the “whole-governmental and society approach” advocated by the GCM.
In total, 97 implementation measures are defined for each objective, identifying the respective implementation deadlines and the governmental departments that will be responsible for their development. 55 of these measures are pointed as “ongoing”, which means that they imply a long-term or permanent commitment to the Global Compact. The measures are organized in five fundamental axes: (1) promotion of safe, orderly and regular migration; (2) improvement of migration flows through organization and integrated border management processes; (3) promotion and qualification of migrants’ reception and integration mechanisms; (4) support to the connections with the migrants’ country of origin and their return projects and (5) increase the development of partnerships with countries of origin and transit and addressing the root causes of irregular migration.
2. The Implementation of the National Plan
2.1. First State report on implementation
In October 2020, the Portuguese Government submitted the first report on implementation of the National Plan. According to this report, there are 16 government units and 27 other entities directly involved in the execution of the National Plan.
The document reports which measures were already adopted. Under the first axis (promotion of safe, orderly and regular migration), an electronic platform which allows people to request and follow up their visa application process – the “E-Visa Portal” – was created. Since March 2020, more than 11.000 individuals were registered in the system. In order to achieve the second axis (improvement of migration flows, organization and integrated border management processes), the country has suspended the annual quota for granting residence permits for work purposes. In addition, Portugal has been simplifying procedures for renewing residence permits, through the creation of a new platform for automatic renewals. As a result, more than 59.373 people had their residence permits automatically renewed since July 2020. The duration of residence permits was also extended. This measure responded to an endemic problem in Portugal, where there were large number of migrants unable to renew their permits due to work overload of the immigration services.
To make the migration regularisation system better, according to the third axis (promotion and qualification of immigrant reception and integration mechanisms), Portugal adopted a new model for the attribution of Social Security Identification numbers, allowing migrants with an employment contract to start their regularisation process (called “NISS on time”). The State has also enlarged the program aimed at promoting migrants’ integration in the labour market, through the creation of “Professional Insertion Offices”. In the last year, this network provided more than 15.000 consultations to more than 7.000 users. Also under the third axis, another long-awaited measure was finally implemented: the creation of Portuguese language courses. Since August 2020, and despite the pandemic crisis, classes on “Portuguese as a Host Language” were developed, offering more help to a full integration in the Portuguese community.
In the fourth axis, (supporting the connection of migrants to their country of origin and their return projects), mention should be made to the establishment of the National Diaspora Investment Support Program (PNAID). This is an instrument aimed at promoting territorial cohesion and at strengthening relations between Portugal and its emigrants or their descendants. The PNAID is structured according to two lines of action: the return and/or investment of the diaspora in Portugal and the promotion of Portuguese exports and investment abroad through the diaspora. This program is in harmony with other initiatives, like the “Regressar Program”, which aims to support the return to Portugal of workers who have emigrated, or their descendants, to meet the labor needs in some sectors of the Portuguese economy. This measure is expected to contribute to job creation and investments, to contribute to the social security, and to respond to the demographic ageing.
Regarding to the last axis (increasing development partnerships with countries of origin and transit, and addressing the root causes of irregular migration), Portugal led the implementation of the EU delegated cooperation project “GESTDOC (2019-2023)”, to improve the levels of security and migration management in Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau in combating human trafficking at a regional level. The Government has also developed a new protocol on the definition of procedures for the “Prevention, Detection and Protection of (presumed) child victims of Trafficking in Human Beings – National Referral System”. This Guide was foreseen as a specific measure contained in the IV Action Plan for the Prevention, Combat and Protection of Trafficking in Human Beings (2018-2021) and in the GCM’s National Implementation Plan.
2.2. Role played by the civil society on implementation
The National Plan recognizes that the fight against illegal, unsafe and disorderly immigration must be carried out through joint work between the Government, companies, and civil society organizations. To fulfill this purpose, the National Implementation Plan relies on the cooperation of civil society organizations in several measures. For example, NGOs are recognized as important providers of information on mechanisms available for regular and organized migration and on warning of risks associated with illegal migration. The same can be said as regards support to vulnerable migrants. The role determined for these entities includes signaling, referral, empowerment, and support of migrants during their migratory journeys.
In Portugal there are several civil society organizations dealing with integration of migrants that can be considered as important stakeholders for the implementation of the National Plan. Mention should be made to the Jesuit Refugee Service, the FORCIM (Fórum de Organizações Católicas para a Imigração), Caritas and multiple immigrants’ associations. The Ombudsman also plays an important role in this process. However, Portuguese stakeholders have not yet presented specific reports on the implementation of the National Plan, and have only expressed their support on this process. For example, the Portuguese Caritas launched the project MIND (Migrations, Interconnection, Development), aimed at supporting and raising awareness to the National Plan and the GCM. It has arranged several meetings and workshops with focus groups for that aim. FORCIM has been relying on the National Plan to invoke that the creation and promotion of legal and safe channels for migration. With the same framework, it calls for access to essential goods and services to all people, regardless of their legal status. However, it notes that the lengthy procedures of authorization to stay or reside in Portugal has a negative and detrimental impact on access to and enjoyment of these essential goods and services. The Portuguese Ombudsman has also been receiving, each year, hundreds of complaints filled by migrants who report these delays, which are an important obstacle to implementing measures on integration of migrants.
2.3. The Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries in the National Implementation of the GCM
Besides the free movement of EU citizens, the most important migratory flows to Portugal are those emerging from the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP). Portugal shares deep cultural and historic ties with these countries, which are actively promoted by the CPLP. Thus, it is not surprising that the development of multilateral and bilateral cooperation with Lusophone countries stands out as an objective to be reached and implemented in the National Plan.
Several measures are foreseen in this realm, such as the signature of agreements on labour migration and on social rights, and the development of projects aimed at increasing the institutional capacities of the countries of origin and transit, namely on education and vocational training and on the empowerment of young people and women.
The Plan also mentions the approval and implementation of the CPLP Mobility Regime, which will facilitate and organize the circulation and residence procedures of CPLP nationals in the various Member States of this Community.
2.4. Implementation Analysis
The good practices and challenges that have been posed to Portugal in the National Plan for the GCM’s implementation reinforce the country’s willingness to deepen the objectives of the Global Compact. However, despite the Portuguese pioneering spirit, one must always consider the existing gaps between the Plan and its execution in practice.
The organization of the National Plan into five main axes sought to adapt the goals of the GCM to the Portuguese reality. 78 of the 97 measures have already been implemented and are in execution. The rest of them had their implementation deadlines extended until the end of 2021.
Although the Plan foresees measures that meet the major gaps of the Portuguese migratory system, and adequately organizes them through time and by the responsible governmental departments, its practical implementation remains challenging. This is mainly due to shortage of trained personnel in key areas, which results in high delays of administrative procedures. These delays, in their turn, lead to the exclusion of hundreds of migrant families from social rights, and also from residence and labour security. As a result, the execution of the National Plan is falling behind the GCM standards. In other cases, it is the National Plan itself that has failed to meet the GCM’s protection levels. Indeed, one of the characteristics of the National Plan is that it focuses primarily on supporting integration, but not as much at strengthening and protecting rights. One example of this approach is the high importance given to access to health or education, and the scarce references to legal instruments aimed at fighting against labour exploitation.
3. Applying the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts
The pandemic scenario brought by Covid-19 required the Portuguese State to adjust its migration policy.
During the first state of emergency, in an Order dated of 27 March, the Government established that all migrants and asylum seekers with pending residence requests would be treated as legal residents until 30 June 2020. This measure was intended to reduce risks to public health, allowing all these migrants to be covered by the same health system as national citizens. But at the same time, it permitted that thousands of migrants with pending applications had their legal situation regularised. This measure affected the lives of approximately 260.000 immigrants, who had their legal status temporarily regularized, and enabled them to access all public services, the National Health Service, other healthcare rights and social support benefits. It was also pivotal for their integration, allowing them to sign lease contracts, celebrate employment contracts, open bank accounts and subscribe essential public services. On 8th November 2020, the Government enacted a new order, extending the regularisation effects for some further months. This new order benefited more 116.700 migrants. Overall, these two orders resulted in the temporary regularisation of 356.700 immigrants. However, one must highlight that these regularisation measures were, in reality, public health measures. They were not tentative recasts of the immigration system, – and they were not even extraordinary regularisations. They only represented temporary measures in the context of the responses to the public health crisis.
Besides this important measure, the Portuguese government has also invested in the translation and dissemination of Covid-19 materials in 25 languages, so that the most vulnerable migrant populations would be informed and included in awareness actions. Portugal also provided support through the Consular network in order to help the return of Portuguese citizens. A weekly support to more than 4.000 immigrant children and young people was created, with the delivery of meals and the collection of schoolwork to those who were most affected due to the schools’ closure. Other programs aimed at supporting vulnerable persons during the pandemic were developed. For example, an operational program of support to people estimated that more than 10.000 immigrant citizens were covered by this program in the first semester of 2020.
More recently, in order to organize the national vaccination plan, the Government created a platform to vaccinate foreigners without national health cards. Those who are not registered in the National Health Service, including foreigners in irregular situations, can be enrolled in the lists for the vaccine and are to be vaccinated on the same conditions as other citizens.
Even though these measures deserve applause, at the same time the pandemic has worsen inequalities and made vulnerabilities existing in the migrant population more visible. Concerns over numbers of infections in some councils made noticeable that, for example, migrant families were living together under inhuman conditions, which would represent a hazard to their health. Migrants living in this context were, thus, much more vulnerable to the health crisis. Moreover, the pandemic context has diminished the government’s pace on putting in practice measures foreseen in the National Plan.
Portugal was indeed a pioneer on approving and adopting a National Implementation Plan of the Global Compact for Migration – thus demonstrating the national interest in putting into practice the objectives of the Global Compact. The first Sate’s implementation report shows that most of the planned measures have already been executed. However, in some sensitive issues, the National Plan fails to meet the GCM’s standards. That is the case of strengthening the rights of migrant workers to prevent them from being subjected to exploitation. Moreover, the public administration immigration services still face several challenges in responding to all requests made by migrants living or willing to live in Portugal. From the Ombudsman’s annual reports on this matter, we may conclude that this problem is a structural one. That being the case, specific measures dealing with the administrative internal procedures and the efficiency of the public immigration services may also be necessary as a complement to the National Plan, in order to guarantee a full realization of the GCM.
Our assessment is that the solutions given so far tend to be aligned with the objectives defined in the Global Compact, but this latter’s full realization will require the Government to adopt ancillary measures, in order to promote more efficiency to the public services, but also to respond to the above-mentioned gaps.
However, due to the Portugal’s long-standing commitment in promoting a well-succeeded integration of migrants in the country, it is to be expected that the country’s action in promoting regular, orderly and legal migration will continue to occupy the center of the strategy of the country in the coming years.
 Portugal, Decreto-Lei nº 67/2004, Retrieved from: https://dre.pt/pesquisa/-/search/211033/details/maximized
 Alto Comissariado para as Migrações. Strategic Plan for Migration. Retrieved from: https://www.acm.gov.pt/documents/10181/222357/PEM_ACM_final.pdf/9ffb3799-7389-4820-83ba-6dcfe22c13fb.
 Portugal, Resolução do Conselho de Ministros nº 141/2019. Retrieved from: https://dre.pt/home/-/dre/124044668/details/maximized
 Due to the pandemic situation, the expected deadlines had to be extended for the last quarter of the year.
 There is total of 23 Professional Insertion Offices, distributed throughout the national territory
 Approved by Council of Ministers Resolution n. 64/2020 of August 18.
 That was the case of the Odemira Municipality, a council in the rural area of the Alentejo, were hundreds of migrants, mostly from South-Asian countries, were found living in degrading conditions. Many of these families were exploited by landlords who would charge high amounts per bed in a apartment.
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