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Southern European countries’ approach to integration of migrants in employment: the Portuguese example

By Isabela Câmara Salim

In Portugal the High Commission for Migration has worked for more than a decade on the integration of migrants. This article by Isabela Salim discusses some of the services which support the integration of migrants into the Portuguese labour market.

In Portugal, migrant integration is a governmental issue encompassing national public policies and plans. Since 2004, the High Commission for Migration (Alto Comissariado para as Migrações, ACM) has been mandated with the goal of integrating migrants into society. Since 2007, the High Commission is responsible for the design and implementation of integration plans for migrants. It does so in coordination with, as well as support of, a range of stakeholders from government to civil society. In this sense, the majority of integration measures in Portugal, including the government’s approach to integration of migrants in employment, will be initiated by ACM and its strategic partners. Their most recent plan is the 2015 Strategic Plan for Migration.

As we will see in this article, in Portugal there is a holistic approach to integration of migrants in employment, going from policies put forward in national public plans to services working in the field directly with migrants for a better inclusion in the labour market of those who seek Portugal as their new host country.

2015-2020 Strategic Plan for Migration

In Portugal there is a holistic approach to integration of migrants in employment, going from policies put forward in national public plans to services working in the field directly with migrants for a better inclusion in the labour market

The Strategic Plan for Migration gathers a series of measures and projects in several areas including reception and integration; racism and discrimination; cultural and religious diversity; gender equality, and others. As for the sectorial measures, there are policies in the areas such as work, employment and training, health, housing, justice, social security, and others.

Concerning the labour market, specific measures include:

-  Promoting better labour conditions by :performing inspections in workplaces, promoting citizenship and gender equality through immigrant integration, preventing illegal use of labour (namely undeclared labour), racial discrimination and human trafficking.

-  Distribution of information regarding immigrant workers’ rights and duties by: developing awareness raising actions with local immigrant integration networks in the areas of labour relations, safety and health at work and promoting awareness raising actions related to equality and non-discrimination on the basis of gender, particularly in the areas of parenting, equal pay, work and family balance and moral and sexual harassment.

-  Developing instruments to improve immigrant integration in the agricultural sector: by elaborating a guide of policies, rules and procedures applicable to migrant workers in the agricultural sector, creating a list of seasonal agricultural activities per region, and making it available on the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development website.

-  Identifying adequate measures to promote integration in the labour market by: monitoring and analysing registrations with employment services and the integration of active employment measures in the labour market.
-  Business Diversity Award: creating an award to recognise the promotion of cultural diversity in public and private companies.

-  Capacity-building of entrepreneur immigrants by: promoting the involvement of immigrants in self-employment programmes through their qualifications and better usage of existing funding streams.

Services for the integration of migrants in employment in Portugal

As a general rule, a migrant holding a residence permit in Portugal is entitled to work. With a valid residence permit, the migrant (Third Country National or European Union citizen) has the right to have a Social Security Number which gives him/her the right to a work contract.

Also, people with official refugee status have the right to work legally in Portugal. As for asylum seekers, contrary to other countries in Europe, in Portugal they are already entitled to work once the asylum application has been validated. Once the application has been validated, a temporary residence permit is issued while the application is being processed and until the final decision, allows asylum seekers to work. According to the asylum law, asylum seekers are only forbidden to work during the time they are waiting for the admissibility of their request.

In order to make the migrant integration process easier and help him/her to have a better access to the labour market, services are provided throughout Portugal, such as the Immigrant Job Centres Network (GIP) or Office of Professional Insertions. In close cooperation with the national Job Centres, the GIPs support unemployed youth and adult migrants in defining and developing their path of integration and reintegration into the labour market.

The GIP provides a plethora of relevant services to include migrants in the labour market: provision of professional information for youth and unemployed adults, support in active job search, support in finding training courses, and personalised follow-up of job seekrs during the integration or reintegration phase. Migrants therefore have access to job offers and training, placement activities, information about community programmes to promote mobility in employment or help getting information and referral to support measures for entrepreneurship, employment and training. The GIPs are spread all over the country and migrants can register in one close to their area of residence. The follow-up is personalised, performed by a professional who will take note of their needs as well as the respective referral to job and / or qualification.

The Institute of Employment and Vocational Training (IEFP), through its job centres, can also provide migrants with support in finding a job, but on this level a good command of the Portuguese language is required. In case the migrant doesn´t speak the language, IEFP also provides Portuguese classes for migrants.

In addition to the migrant integration plans, ACM also created spaces specifically designed to respond to difficulties felt by immigrants in their integration process in Portugal. Thus, one can find in Portugal National and Local Immigrant Support Centres – one-stop shops with different services, institutions and Cabinets that provide support to the immigrant community. Among services offered, there is the Cabinet of Employment Support with two types of services: one for professional insertion coordinated by the GIP Network and one specialised in the area of entrepreneurship.

Concerning refugees, several organisations support them with their integration in Portugal (e.g. the Jesuit Refugee Service and the Portuguese Refugee Council) and in finding a job. But refugees can also benefit from the support of some employment services (i.e. the GIP Network and IEFP through their job centres).

For the youngest, there is “Programa Escolhas” (Choices Programme), a Portuguese governmental social and digital funding structure, integrated in the High Commission for Migration, whose goal is to promote social inclusion of children and youth of the most vulnerable communities, particularly the descendants of immigrants and other ethnic minorities. The Programme is now in its 6th phase and the innovation is the extension of the age range from 24 to 30 years old, enabling a more consistent intervention in employment and employability. Among the many projects, there are some with a clear focus on employability, job placement and business development.

As for the labour rights of migrants, the Labour Code foresees general regulations on equality of opportunity and treatment with regard to access to employment, training and promotion and to working conditions. Violation of these regulations is sanctioned with administrative offences. Likewise, the regulations ensure remedy mechanisms in cases of violations of labour rights, either through litigation or administrative mechanisms.

A recent good initiative for the integration of migrants in employment was the signature of the Portuguese Diversity Charter. Signed on 31 March 2016, the Charter involved many entities committed to promoting an equal society, and was signed by 80 employers of the most diverse sectors. The Portuguese Diversity Charter has diversity as its main principle, and recognises that diversity in an organisation enables innovation. The signatory organisations of this Charter commit to diversity, “as an ethical imperative, as a basic principle guiding all its activities, both internally and externally, as part of its core values and its institutional identity”.

Though there is a real wish by the Portuguese government and institutions to provide policies and plans to promote the integration of migrants into the labour market, in practice it is difficult to analyse the impact of these measures in terms of employment integration of migrants

Though there is a real wish by the Portuguese government and institutions to provide policies and plans to promote the integration of migrants into the labour market, in practice it is difficult to analyse the impact of these measures in terms of employment integration of migrants. The main problem is the lack of indicators and data. In fact, the ACM reports are more descriptive than quantitative and there are no updated statistics on the employment integration or mobility of migrants.

Nevertheless, the last ACM Annual statistical report shows a decrease in the number of unemployed migrants in 2014 (a drop from 6.7% in 2010 to 4.9% in 2014). The report also states that there was an increase in the relative weight of foreign employers in the total number of Portuguese employers between 2012 and 2014. The last MIPEX study, which ranked Portugal as the second best country for the integration of migrants, gave the highest score for Labour Market Mobility. We can read that “despite the crisis and austerity, Portugal maintained its investment in integration and even worked to increase its reach and effectiveness (…); more immigrants can access protections (…) and expanded targeted employment programmes”.

That said, in spite of all the efforts, the ACM report also demonstrates that the foreign population continues to be over-represented in some professional groups. In fact, according to the report, 52% of foreign workers were employed in low-skilled professional groups while only 38% of Portuguese workers were in these same professional groups. On the other hand, Portuguese have more employed population (25%) in the top professional groups than foreigners (only 12%). These figures only reinforce the importance of having national public policies and plans to integrate and promote mobility of migrants in the labour market.

Isabela Salim is a journalist by training. She has been working in the migration field for the past ten years, including for the International Organisation for Migration in Portugal.

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