Government woos foreign talent after kicking out Portugal’s own

Government woos foreign talent after kicking out Portugal’s own

It’s a move that has been dubbed even more “surreal” than last week’s Miró auction fracas. The government is preparing a fast-track “talent visa” programme, designed to woo foreign whizz-kids of all kinds, when only last year it was telling Portugal’s home-grown talent to emigrate. The news – greeted with disbelief by left-wingers – comes as the country’s universities are approaching financial meltdown and thousands of students from north to south are quitting higher education because they cannot afford it.
“Surrealism has become this government’s trademark,” Bloco de Esquerda’s figurehead Catarina Martins said of the new “strategic plan” announced in the Portuguese press at the weekend.
“The government that forced Portuguese researchers and scientists to emigrate is now planning fiscal and remunerative incentives that it has never given those from our own country.”
Indeed, the news comes as a slap-in-the-face for scientists who gathered outside Lisbon’s Foundation for Science and Technology last month, protesting against “brutal” cuts to research programmes.
Of 3,433 candidatures for grants this year, only 298 were successful, said the association supporting research scientists (Associação de Bolseiros de Investigação Científica).
The financial “strangulation” signified “a backward step of at least 20 years” when it came to national science and technology, “with tragic consequences for the lives of thousands as well as the economic, social and cultural development of the country”.
Association vice-president João Pedro Ferreira added: “This means another few thousand more will be thrown into unemployment or ‘invited to emigrate’.”
The controversial emigration “invitation”, extended more than two years ago by Passos Coelho, has already seen an exodus of over 240,000 Portuguese from all over the country.
Officials have admitted it signifies as much as 2% of the population.
Talking to Lusa news agency, Secretary of State for Emigrant Communities José Cesário said: “When I see young people with a great academic and scientific background emigrate, of course it worries me”. Thus now the scramble to “reverse the migratory flux”, as TVI24 puts it.
On Monday, President of the Republic Cavaco Silva met with Minister for Education and Science, Nuno Crato, to discuss the “new political direction for the financing of science”. Only the week before, Prime Minister Passos Coelho had suggested the government was gradually “breaking with the policies of the past” to promote science and technology.
After the success of the ‘Golden Visa’ programme (see box), ‘Talent Visas’ are seen as another short-cut to economic recovery. The exact incentives are expected to be announced soon (as the government works on its strategy), but can they bear fruit? BE’s Catarina Martins would think not. “There is no universe of investigators that can come to Portugal and save science or research,” she declared at a rally in the borough of Moita. She claimed the government was treating talent like football clubs treat star players.
“I don’t understand much about football, but I know all the players go to Germany and Holland, the north of Europe in other words, to be with the more qualified, while the south loses its economy and its people.”

Universities in financial meltdown

As details of the ‘Talent Visa’ strategy are fine-tuned by the government’s own whizz-kid, Secretary of State for Regional Development Pedro Lomba, universities up and down the country are in desperate states of financial meltdown.
A meeting with the education secretary earlier this month saw shocked rectors learn that vital funding they thought would come through was nowhere to be found.
In the Algarve, the region’s university rector António Branco has already admitted that the establishment faces “total paralysation” of all its activities “before the end of the year” as it simply doesn’t have the money to pay for anything.
The rector listed the “impossibility” of paying wages of all kinds, water and electricity bills, cleaning charges, security overheads and telecommunications costs.
In his first interview with the university’s magazine UALGzine, he even suggested it was impossible to carry out projects that had already been financed. The seat of learning in the south would appear to be in tatters.
Elsewhere, António Rendas – President of the Council of Rectors – has admitted that the time for meetings with government chiefs may well be running out.
“There has to be a moment when we decide when we are going to go from meetings to action,” he told Lusa news agency. “I think that moment will happen in the next few months.”
It is not simply that universities are tied in knots by restrictive budgets; it is also that students are pulling out of courses in droves. The reason for the exodus is invariably given as “lack of money to pay”.
Diário de Notícias reported last week that, taking the country as a whole, over €5.5 billion is owing to the nation’s universities.

Concern as thousands quit universities to save money

Thousands of university students have been forced to ‘drop out’ of courses due to money problems at home.
In Porto, Minho, Coimbra and the Algarve, the exodus has already topped 2,000, with universities often left to pick up the tab.
Coimbra is one of the worst hit – with this year’s drop-out figures already reaching 678 (7% more than last year).
In the Algarve, students leaving suddenly have increased by 11% (the total so far this year being 168) – and in almost all cases, reasons given are “economic”.
Even when students try and stick things out, there are exponential cases of unpaid fees.
“Taking the country as a whole, there is a total of €5.5 billion in unpaid fees,” writes Diário de Notícias. “As much in Coimbra as in Porto” (where the drop-out level has soared 15% this year), “there are more than 4,000 students late in paying university fees”.
Thus, the ‘Talent Visa’ programme could not come a moment too soon. Introducing it to journalists at the weekend, government spokesman Pedro Lomba said: “We want to create conditions so that foreign talent continues to come to Portugal. We also want to create conditions so Portuguese talent returns to Portugal and we want to create conditions that will retain the talent that we have here.”
As Catarina Martins suggests, it is nothing short of a tragedy that the government has only now started working this out.

|| Chinese spend millions on ‘passport to Europe’

The wave of Chinese attracted by Portugal’s ‘Golden Visa’ programme shows no sign of peaking, with deputy PM Paulo Portas radiantly declaring that it is proving a powerful tool for economic recovery – and a bonus to the real estate sector.
Talking to Lusa news agency, Portas said he was hopeful that money made from the programme would exceed €500 million this year.
Last year saw 471 of the visas awarded to foreign investors – translating into over €307 million in direct real estate investment – but 2014 looks set to be even better, said Portas. In the first three weeks of January alone, Portugal issued 49 golden visas, almost all of them going to wealthy Chinese.
Talking to journalists, Chinese translator Mia Kong explained that the Chinese see the programme as a gateway to Europe.
Kong was accompanying two Chinese couples who travelled to Sintra last weekend to view properties for sale at the exclusive Quinta da Penha Longa development. The estate agent in charge of the tour, Andreia Falcão, told Correio da Manhã newspaper that as little as 10% of foreign-buyers actually end up living in Portugal. Their objective, she said, is simply to gain unlimited access to Europe.
Market prices here also help, she explained. To qualify for a golden visa in Portugal, foreign buyers need only to spend €500,000 on property – whereas in Peking, a small apartment can cost four times as much as that.
Falcão said in many cases buyers look for properties at the lowest end of the scale, but then choose one that is more expensive. If two people want golden visas, they can both qualify by buying a million-euro property between them.
Other than Chinese – who represent the lion’s share of buyers clinching golden visas – Angolans, Brazilians and Russians are embracing the scheme.
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]