and a little bit on policies

This Wednesday 6 November, the second roundtable of our Migration and Return cycle of workshops took place in ISCTE-UL.

What is this about? As we presented at the occasion of our first workshop, Filipa Pinho, Liliana Azevedo, Aline Schiltz and myself are all working on migration and return to Portugal. Regions of departure are varied: Switzerland, Luxemburg, UK and France. And we also work from different perspectives and different disciplines. We started to meet over coffee to discuss our respective research projects and realised that we were asking ourselves many similar questions, often left with only partial answers. 

The media – with regular articles on migration and return issues – as well as policies – including the Programa Regressar – all contribute to make a discussion on these issues timely. This is why we thought of enlarging the circle and find an open informal format to foster discussions over those themes. 

At our first encounter in October, we spoke of statistics with Rui Pena Pires and Isabel Tiago da Oliveira. With the demographic changes among migrants, and then among returnees, discourses and policies have changed too.

For this second encounter, Filipa Pinho opens the session. Among the politics aiming at retaining emigrants, targeted because of the resources they represent, she distinguishes between policies supporting the physical return of migrants, and policies linked to diaspora affairs. What I find very interesting, is the idea that diaspora affairs are actually associated with the “motivational dimensions” (Mármora, 2002) of return. Voting, having dual citizenship (with the third generation benefiting jus sanguinis), accessing Portuguese classes abroad… Filipa Pinho points out that these measures can convert into a potential future return.

Filipa Pinho reminds us that the interest of the state of Portugal towards the return of its nationals can date back to the creation of the Instituto de Apoio ao Retorno (IARN) in 1975. Even though the Institute eventually promoted the return from former colonies, the law provided that it could actually support any Portuguese, wherever the person was in the world. A second milestone related to the promotion of physical return was the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan for Migrations of the ACM (High Commission for Migrations). Although the plan targeted immigration to Portugal, and Portuguese emigration, it included some ideas that were then developed in this regard. In August 2018, the General Direction of Consular Affairs and Portuguese Communities (dependent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) published a Roteiro de Regresso to facilitate procedures regarding social security, health, degree equivalence, driving licence exchange and more. Finally, the Programa Regressar was enforced in July 2019.

Joaquim Moura is the next speaker. He has been involved with the Programa Regressar since its start four months ago. Joaquim Moura considers that supporting return is a matter of justice. Those who had to leave, he says, must benefit from the best conditions and the right to come back. But it is also of interest for the State of Portugal, since returnees can fulfill positions on the labour market (he evaluates that 200,000 positions are not filled today), ensure the sustainability of social security, provide a demographic boost and investments from the outside. With these objectives in mind, the programme is designed for people who have a job, or the means to invest. As a matter of fact, the person must sign a permanent contract, or open their business. For Joaquim Moura, the number of investors is important. However, he says, the credit line now open fits less small businesses (such as hairdresser, garage…), and this should be adapted.

The programme is defined through 6 strategic areas: job offers (an area dealt with by IEFP), education and training (by the General Direction for Education), degree equivalence, geographic mobility (the one people talk about, he says, because signing a contract in Portugal means getting an allowance for transport and settlement), fiscality (a tax discount of 50% of what one should normally pay, for five years, dealt with by the Treasury), and investment (which consists in a line of credit from IAPMEI).

The whole programme is an institutional assemblage, built upon existing mechanisms and new incentives. The agents in the programme are sitting at IEFP, but are independent from it. The programme is the product of interministerial coordination, and relies on focal points in different institutions. The networks of agents that Joaquim Moura consider crucial are those of IEFP, the consular network, the GAE that we had the chance to speak about in a previous post, the social security, and the Treasury.

Joaquim Moura tells us that they received 3500 demands for information through mail, whatsapp and Skype. 430 applications were submitted, most of the applicants having left between 2012 and 2015, being between 25 and 44, male and from UK, France and Switzerland.

The IEFP (the Institute for Employment and Professional Training) is responsible for two mechanisms: financial support and the online portal for employment opportunities. Luisa Bastos is the next speaker, and she explains that IEFP has been involved in the European network EURES to provide employment opportunities for (free to circulate) European workers for 25 years. She believes in the right to be mobile, build a career elsewhere, but also in the benefits of return for the country. The Programa Regressar, she says, meant a “change of paradigm” for IEFP as they had to open the registration to Portuguese who are not residing in Portugal. It also meant that they had to sensitize employers and convince them adopt tools for remote interviewing.

Luisa Bastos reminds us that the programme targets emigrants but also luso-descendants (anyone Portuguese under the citizenship law) who has been working abroad for at least 12 months, and has exited last on 31/12/2015. If participants fit those criteria, they can obtain financial support, a co-participation in the cost of transport of people and properties. If the hiring company pays for this relocation, IEFP can reimburse them partly.

The last speaker is Jorge Oliveira, in charge of the GAE network supervised by the Portuguese communities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGACCP). A quick note: this is different from the GARE, supervised by ACM and dependent on the Council of Ministries.

Jorge Oliveira suggests that there are two distinct categories of returnees. Migrants from former waves of migration who stayed during their entire career abroad and come back upon retirement; and migrants who left the last decade, who experience shorter migration cycles, and come back looking for employment. He provides us with some key dates, but mostly, his presentation aims at showcasing the concrete difficulties migrants experience when coming back to Portugal. He gives a series of example, ranging from school registration to fiscal reduction where preparation is key. For him, the GAE in municipalities all across Portugal act as a one-stop-shop for returnees. However, the discussion that follows point out the role of the public service agents in charge. Street-level bureaucrats are again crucial to the level of service!

Among the audience are two women from associations. They form another part of this return migration industry. They find coordination and information an important objective, yet to be attained.

Return… or migration? This is again the question. In fact, what interest us is to look not only at incentives to come back, but at integration in the long run. Often, return – as it concerns co-ethnics – is conceived as a painless process. However, research works have shown that returnees might face similar problems that other migrants while arriving in the country they left a long time ago.

At the end, while we share a coffee, a participant tells me: “you really discover everything when there is a loss. As someone passes away, you realise that the papers are still in two different places, and it was far from finished. At the end, the funeral agencies do this paperwork for a fee, and often, they do not do it properly”.


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