This blog provides an overview of specific national labour migration and work permit policies in Portugal, based on this detailed case study. We also track how single provisions match policy recommendations we developed in our 2021 report on labour migration.
Work visas from outside Portugal
Workers who wish to work in Portugal can apply for a work visa from Portuguese embassies and consulates in third countries. This pathway is not restricted to particular nationalities or certain jobs. However, positions are often poorly advertised, and it can be challenging both for employers to recruit candidates, and for jobseekers to secure a job offer, from overseas.
To apply, workers need a formal job offer or labour contract in line with Portuguese labour standards, and have the required competences and skills.
Workers also need to apply for an entry visa to enter Portugal, that is valid for up to six months. Since August 2022, people are issued a “pre-residence permit” with their visa that facilitates access to social services until the Immigration Office issues the residence permit for employed workers in Portugal (see below).
Residence permits for employed workers
Combined residence and work permits based on employment are relatively accessible for people who already are in Portugal, regardless of nationality, both if they have a residence permit or not (I.e., they have a visit visa, are staying within a visa waiver period, or are undocumented).
In order to apply, all workers need to have a passport; a formal job offer or contract of employment, in any job or sector, of at least one year; evidence of sufficient means of subsistence (not clearly defined by the law which gives some degree of flexibility); evidence of adequate accommodation (rental contract or service receipts showing place of residence); no criminal record for offences that result in more than one year in prison nor having a valid entry ban; a social security number (except in cases of promised employment contract) and a tax number.
Application criteria vary slightly depending on the person’s current residence status, namely if they have a residence visa or if they entered Portugal regularly and have a valid entry visa or stamp showing entry, within the visa waiver period. For undocumented workers who do not fall in any of those two categories, they would need to prove they have been working and making social security contributions for 12 months. Undocumented workers can register their employment with social security, obtain a social security number and pay social security contributions. Immigration enforcement as a result of this registration remains possible, but in practice it rarely happens.
When applying for a residence permit for an employed worker without a residence visa, the person is considered as irregularly residing. During this time (it can take between one and four years to receive a final decision) applicants do not have equal access to healthcare and are excluded from most social protection measures, despite paying into the social security system. If the employer does not pay taxes, workers may be unable to regularise their status, and risk being arrested and deported. There is no fee for processing the application, only a fee for the residence permit card itself. Undocumented workers may be subject to a fine for the time they have resided in Portugal irregularly, but this is not commonly imposed.
The residence permit for employed workers is valid for two years and can be renewed for successive periods of three years. Workers can work for multiple employers, and change employer and job sector at any time, based on the same application procedure and permit.
People with a residence permit can access unemployment benefits on the same terms as Portuguese citizens (if they have been employed for 360 days), and can apply for family reunification, although the process can be costly and burdensome. After five years, workers can apply for a long-term residence permit, and after six years, Portuguese citizenship.
Government figures for 2021 show that nearly 29,000 people obtained a residence permit for employed workers without a residence visa. This figure relates to those with regular entry into Portugal, but there is no data available on how many undocumented people who entered irregularly have been able to access this scheme. This was the most common means of obtaining a residence permit in Portugal.
Job search visas, introduced in 2022, allow people to go to Portugal to look for work. This visa is not restricted to any nationality or job type.
To get this visa, people need to register in an official platform to declare their interest in going to Portugal to find work, and indicate their academic qualifications and professional experience. Job seekers need to have valid health insurance and accommodation, and show proof of means of subsistence, defined as the equivalent of three times the minimum wage (which as of 2022 was 705€ per month, resulting in a total amount of around 2,115€).
The job-seeking visa is valid for 120 days and can be extended for a 60-day period. It authorises job-seekers to enter Portugal once, reside and carry out work until the visa expires or until they are issued a residence permit for employed workers.
When the person is issued the job-seeking visa, they will also get an appointment with the immigration authorities to register for a residence permit for employed workers.
People from the eight countries in the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and São Tomé e Príncipe) are exempted from proof of valid health insurance and means of subsistence to access the job-seeking visa, if they can provide a letter of sponsorship. This is a letter in which a Portuguese citizen declares that they can cover the costs of food and accommodation for the person, as well as repatriation costs.
It is too early to evaluate the functioning of the job-seeking visa. Nonetheless, it will likely facilitate regular labour migration to the country and reduce the number of people refused entry and detained, especially for people from the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries.
Cover image: Nick Karvounis – Unsplash