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Portuguese say ‘yes’ to immigration so long as there is work

The Portuguese have “ambivalent” feelings about the subject of immigration, according to a survey conducted by the Lisbon-based Universidade Católica Portuguesa.

With the goal of analysing the behaviour and prejudices of the Portuguese people regarding immigration in comparison to a similar survey that took place in 2004, the survey is part of the book Os Imigrantes e a Imigração aos Olhos dos Portugueses (Immigrants and Immigration in the Eyes of the Portuguese), which was released last week at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon.

Conducted in late 2010 with a sample of 1,830 individuals aged 18 and over and living in mainland Portugal, the research also shows that although the Portuguese acknowledge the contribution of immigrants to the economy and the country’s cultural wealth (73%), they only support their stay in the country so long as they are employed or have children that were born in Portugal.

Between 2004 and 2010, there was “a slight contraction in the economic appreciation of immigrants”, with 61% of the population saying that they play an important role in economic life, namely “in jobs considered less desirable by the Portuguese”.

This also reflects how the soaring unemployment rate is affecting the perception of the Portuguese population, considered by many as very tolerant regarding immigration.

In fact, the majority of those surveyed believes that “immigrants should have more rights, namely when it comes to voting (73%), naturalisation (75%) and family regrouping (85%)”, and only “little more than half of those surveyed are in favour of decreasing the number of immigrants” depending on the “immigrants’ geographic origin”, with figures ranging from 46 to 57%.

Listing frequent interaction as one of the best ways to eliminate feelings of prejudice, the majority of the respondents thinks that “there should be interaction between the Portuguese and immigrants”. On the other hand, they also believe that immigrants “should learn the Portuguese language” whilst maintaining their own culture but not necessarily their lifestyle.

The survey also highlighted the discrepancy of treatment depending on gender, stressing that immigrant women are “under-represented and invisible” when mentioned in the Portuguese media. They are commonly associated with prostitution (67%) and criminality (41%), whilst immigrant men are linked to criminality – a staggering 98% – and labour-related subjects (38%).

According to numbers from the statistics portal of the Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (Immigration and Boarder Control Authority – SEF), there were 445,262 foreigners living in Portugal in 2010, most of whom were Brazilian (119,363 citizens). Ukraine was the second largest foreign community with 49,505 immigrants, followed by Cape Verde (43,979), Romania (36,830), Angola (23,494) and Guinea-Bissau (19,817). Ana Tavares