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60,000 Portuguese emigrated in 2021: UK “principal destination”

2021 saw 15,000 more Portuguese citizens leave country than in 2020

Around 60,000 Portuguese emigrated in 2021 – 15,000 more than the previous year, in what the Emigration Report describes as a “remarkable recovery” of exits, after a sharp drop in 2020. The United Kingdom was once again the “principal destination”. 

The report, due to be presented today at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Lisbon, is an initiative of the State Secretariat for Portuguese Communities and is based on data collected from institutions responsible for immigration statistics by the Emigration Observatory, a research centre of ISCTE – University Institute of Lisbon.

It states that between 2019 and 2020, “emigration saw a drop of around 44%, as a result of the combined effects of the pandemic crisis and Brexit”.

“The policies of confinement placed obstacles for mobility and produced a global economic crisis of major proportions that explain the sharp brake in international migration,” explain the authors.

In 2021, half as many Portuguese emigrated as did in 2013 (the height of the years of ‘austerity’ under the troika). With the exception of 2020, only in 2003 were such low values recorded. With a peak in 2013, since that year there has been a downward trend in emigration.

But 2021 saw “a remarkable recovery”, says the report – an increase compared to 2020 of around 33%.

The authors consider that “it is still too early to know whether this growth will be sustainable or whether emigration will stabilise at a lower level than before the pandemic”. They “lean more towards the latter hypothesis, says Lusa, “given the lingering effects of ‘Brexit’.

“Unlike what happened with the pandemic, the effects of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union are prolonged in time, making it more difficult for people to enter what was the main destination of Portuguese emigration” – at least when it comes to the less qualified. 

Citing data made available by the United Nations in 2022, the report points to 2,631,559 Portuguese emigrés – people born in Portugal living abroad, who represented, in 2019, around 26% of the resident population in the country, being the 8th country in the world with the most emigrés.

Worldwide, in the same year, there were over 247 million international migrants, or 3.4% of the world population.

In 2021, of the 23 destination countries with high flows of Portuguese emigration, more than half (14) were European.

The United Kingdom was the leading destination (12,000 entries), followed by Spain (8,000), Switzerland (8,000), France (6,000) and Germany (6,000).

Portuguese represent 1.6% of the total number of foreign-born people residing in the United Kingdom, the 4th country in the world where most Portuguese live.

Outside Europe, the main countries of destination for Portuguese emigration are part of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP): Angola (1,708 in 2019) and Mozambique (1,000 in 2016, the last year for which data is available).

There was “a slight increase” in entries in all the countries analysed, with the exception of Australia (down 48.7%) and Macau (down 73.1%).

Men emigrate more than women and, in terms of age, this movement is essentially composed of young people.

France continues to be the country with the largest number of residents born in Portugal, resulting mainly from the great wave of emigration in the 1960/70’s, with 598,000 individuals.

Switzerland has 207,000 residents born in Portugal, followed by the United States of America (162,000), the United Kingdom (156,000), Brazil (138,000 in 2010), Canada (134,000) and Germany (115,000).

23% of the emigrés living in Brazil (in 2010), 9% of those living in France, and 8% in Cape Verde (2018) and Switzerland were born in Portugal.