30% of young people born in Portugal live outside country

Almost a third of Portuguese women of ‘fertile age’ live abroad

Almost 30% of young people born in Portugal live outside the country.

More than 850,000 young Portuguese (between the ages of 15-39) have left the country and currently live abroad – almost a third of them being ‘women of a fertile age’.

The exodus will have a “brutal effect on national fertility and the labour market”, warn experts.

These are salient points coming out of the “Atlas of Portuguese Emigration”, compiled and ready to be presented next week by the Observatory of Migrations.

What it boils down to is that Portugal has the highest level of emigration in Europe, and one of the highest in the world, says Expresso, running the story as its broadsheet edition cover story this week.

“The continuous wave of exits over the year has added to the number of Portuguese (already) living abroad, accelerating the loss of the younger population”.

The Observatory of Migrations’ report used data – to come to what it admits is an estimate – on age-groups of foreign resident communities in “a sample of countries most chosen by Portuguese emigrés”, explains the paper.

“Just since 2001, more than 75,000 people on average have left the country every year. The peak came between 2010 and 2019, hitting its highest point in 2013 when 120,000 Portuguese left the country (…) Right now, there are roughly 2.3 million Portuguese living abroad, of which 70% are aged between 15-39 years old”.

As Público describes it: “In 20 years, 15% of the Portuguese population emigrated”. 

Successive economic crises have governed young people’s expectations

No surprises here: the reasons given for the exodus of the country’s most productive are invariably ‘successive economic crises’ : other countries offer “projects for the future” of Portugal’s younger generations. 

There is the argument that it has ‘always been thus’. But the problem is that the situation has reached a real crunch point (a bit like the lack of rain has finally been recognised for having depleted underground reserves).

So how can Portugal reverse the continual loss of those who are “the most dynamic”? Again no surprises: experts are divided between those who believe political solutions are needed, and those who accept it is a problem that can never be fixed.

Supports like the repayment of university fees when students complete their studies and continue working in Portugal “can be important to stem the flow of leavers”, but they are not enough.

“Intervention has to be made at employment level, with salaries, given that in Portugal many recent graduates earn little more than the minimum wage”, José Carlos Marques, a sociologist specialising in emigration, tells Expresso.

Geographer Jorge Malheiros ‘agrees’, but believes the volume of departures will never diminish substantially, by dint of the fact that Portugal IS “a small economy” (with small horizons).

Malheiros’ feeling is that the country should have active strategies to “capture immigrants”.

This is in spite of the fact that Portugal has never had a level of foreign immigration that is higher. 

For six years, foreigners have been replenishing the country that its own citizens are leaving; they have been having babies; they have been contributing to the social security system; they have been mitigating demographic losses – but they have not been filling the gap in terms of ‘lost qualifications’. 

“The loss of qualified Portuguese who leave the country is greater than the qualified foreigners who enter it”, admits Malheiros

And this is the real conundrum. If the country is to have active strategies to “capture immigrants” with qualifications, then, added to the immigrants already here without qualifications, Portugal risks compromising its identity in order to survive as an economy.

Which countries do Portuguese emigrés prefer?

France continues to be the country with the largest Portuguese community (around 600,000 live in France, 40% of them in Paris); then there are sizeable Portuguese communities in Switzerland, Luxembourg (particularly the Esch-sur-Alzette canton); the UK, Spanish Galicia, Holland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway – all of these being able to offer much higher salaries than tend to be paid in Portugal.

As the Observatory’s report concedes, “beyond the feeling of loss” for the country, “there is one of fragility”.

According to the entity’s scientific coordinator Rui Pena Pires, in migratory terms, Portugal is “closer to countries of Eastern Europe (he cites Bulgaria and Romania). ND

Source material: Expresso