By: Chris Graeme
FOREIGNERS WORKING in Portugal generate 11 billion euros, the equivalent of Portugal Telecom in terms of income for the country. The statistics released from the Ministry of Social Security come a week after a controversial extreme right party poster, demanding that no more immigrants should be allowed into Portugal, was put up in Lisbon’s Marquês de Pombal.
The poster from the Partido Nacional Renovador states: “Enough Immigration – Nationalism is the Solution – Portugal for the Portuguese”. According to leading economists, foreign immigrants, particularly those from Brazil, the Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, as well as Angola, Mozambique, Goa and Cape Verde, are essential for the national economy, in industries such as construction and catering. Immigrants were also essential for their payments into the country’s social security system and income tax.
According to economists, the immigration phenomenon has occurred in Portugal for three main reasons:
1. As living standards have increased in Portugal overall since 1974, many Portuguese have become better qualified and are no longer willing to work in areas traditionally seen as unskilled, such as certain front line positions in retailing, catering and construction.
2. Portugal’s entry into the European Union has seen a flood of professionals leaving the country for Britain, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Holland, Germany and Switzerland, among others. Although not a new phenomenon, 2005 and 2006 saw the largest exodus of brains and manual work from Portugal since the 1960s and early 1970s in search of better wages. On the other side, this has meant greater mobility for immigrants from other EU countries as well as the Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania where skills are higher but social, political and economic systems have been in transition following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
3. Falling birth rates in Portugal and an aging population have meant that it was imperative for Portugal to open the door to immigration to sustain its social security system.
“We can say that seven per cent of Portugal’s GDP is generated solely from immigrants from both EU and non-EU countries,” said Eduardo Sousa Ferreira, a professor at Lisbon’s economics institute, Instituto Superior de Economia e Gestão (ISEG).
“We only have data on this up until 2005, which showed a contribution of six per cent, but from there on we can consider it to be seven per cent because immigrants are now occupying more qualified positions,” said the lecturer.
There are an estimated 500,000 legal immigrants in Portugal, representing nine to 10 per cent of the working population and contributing 6.7 per cent of the country’s social security budget.
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