Stagnant Economy Forces Portuguese to Look Toward Former Colonies for Work

Three Portuguese workers, who started a social media campaign to vent their frustration at grim career prospects amid an acute economic crisis (file photo)
Three Portuguese workers, who started a social media campaign to vent their frustration at grim career prospects amid an acute economic crisis (file photo)
Dominic Laurie

Portuguese are no strangers to emigration. In the 1960s, they looked to richer countries on their doorstep, like Germany and Switzerland, for work. But now much of Europe is struggling economically alongside Portugal. So, they are looking to their former colonies for opportunity.

The lines of people outside the Angolan consulate in the dock area of Lisbon are long and stretch around the corner.

A few years ago, the clamor among Portuguese to visit their former colony would not have been this strong. But Angola's economy has grown at 10 percent every year for most of the last decade.  Compared to Portugal - forecast to shrink three percent this year - Angola looks like a paradise.

Fourteen percent of people in Portugal are out of work. There’s been a seven-fold rise in the number of Portuguese applying for work permits in Angola in recent years. The African former colony is now the third biggest source of money sent back home to Portugal, so the government is actively encouraging some of its unemployed citizens to emigrate.  Andre Mendes and Caterina Alvarez, two graduate students in Lisbon, are listening.

"For someone who has good studies, good university, a masters degree, it's not that difficult to find a job," said Mendes. "But maybe it's not our dream job. And if we think about long term perspectives and building up a career, it's easier to go abroad."

"There are a lot of opportunities but they are mainly trainee programs or internships, where you start a contract signed for six months or one year," said Caterina Alvarez. "After that, it's not very likely that you stay in the company....That's why people are more likely to go abroad to start in a fast-growing market that they see that they have more opportunities to stay and grow in a company."

Sitting beside Andre and Caterina in their university cafeteria is Andreia Domingues. She moved to Brazil a few years ago, and works for a new company that has grown from 200 to 800 employees in the short time she has been there. She says Portuguese often have an advantage over local Brazilians.

"I think the ability to speak English is a great advantage for Portuguese people," said Domingues. "I had that experience when I was trying to recruit my team. I interviewed like 20 people and some of them said that they spoke, fluently, English. And when I tried to develop a conversation in English clearly they weren't as prepared as Portuguese people."

Andre, Caterina and Andreia study or studied at Catholic University in Lisbon. You might imagine the institution is worried by the lack of faith its students are showing in Portugal’s economy. Not so. The rise of Brazil, Angola and other Portuguese-speaking countries is actually benefiting them, as Ana Ribeiro, who runs the graduate business program there, explains.

"We're getting more and more international students. For instance, we are getting more and more Germans," said Ribeiro. "They want to learn the language. Though we teach in English, they can learn in Portuguese while they are studying here, so this is an opportunity for them that are looking for jobs, for instance, in Brazil."

Portugal's economy is shrinking, and many of its best and brightest are going abroad for work - possibly never to return. But with language and trade links to Africa and South America, many Portuguese see emigration as their salvation.

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