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E.g., 07/01/2023
Emigration from Portugal: Old Wine in New Bottles?
February 2016

Emigration from Portugal: Old Wine in New Bottles?

Portugal recently emerged from its most economically turbulent period in recent history, triggered by the global financial crisis and an austerity program that plunged the country into deep recession. While emigration has been on the rise—departures rose to 110,000 in 2013—and contributed to concerns over "brain drain," the reality is that large-scale outmigration is nothing new for Portugal, this report for MPI's Transatlantic Council on Migration notes.

Emigration is only felt more deeply today because immigration has simultaneously been falling, creating a net migration deficit. Emigration and slowed immigration have also accompanied a sharp decline in births, boosting the issue of population decline and aging to the top of the agenda. Despite public belief to the contrary, the recent wave of emigration mirrors previous waves in that it has been largely characterized by low-skilled workers seeking better jobs and opportunities abroad. While high-skilled emigration has indeed been on the rise, it is a trend that has grown over decades owing in part to the forces of globalization and greater European integration.

This report explores the scale, drivers, and impact of emigration from Portugal since the turn of the millennium. It outlines the characteristics of Portuguese emigrant populations in top destination countries, including Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, and examines how the country can stem emigration and promote the return of emigrants.

Despite the recent trends, the report finds that emigration has not been a priority for Portugal, which lacks targeted policies in this area. Instead, the political discourse has implied that any attempt to stem emigration requires structural reforms to the labor market to create the conditions necessary to lure foreign talent and investment into the country. Such reform should be part of a broader strategy to spur economic growth, which will create opportunities for the success of new generations in the labor market, encourage return of recent emigrants, and create the conditions to recruit new immigrants in the future.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Emigration from Portugal: Scale, Drivers, Impact

A. Assessing the Scale of Portuguese Emigration

B. Drivers of Emigration

C. The Impact of Emigration

III. From Emigrants to Immigrants

A. Immigrants in a Country of Emigrants

B. Still Emigrants After All These Years

IV. The Portuguese Abroad: Case Studies on Recent Evolution

A. Spain

B. United Kingdom

C. Switzerland

D. Germany

E. Other Destinations

V. Portuguese Emigration: The Future?

VI. Emigration Policy

VII. Recommendations