A new Immigration Law passed by the Council of Ministers in Portugal on August 10 could help legalize some of the over 500,000 foreign workers in the country. Symbolically, August 10th was also the date of the Brasilia summit meeting between Brazilian President José Inácio Lula da Silva and Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates Carvalho Pinto de Sousa.
Over one-third of the 160,000 Brazilian immigrants live in Portugal are undocumented. Brazilians constitute the largest foreign community Portugal, which has a total population of 10.2 million. The law seeks to better relations with Brazil through recognition of Brazilian immigrants.
The comprehensive law requires foreigners wishing to work in Portugal to have a job offer or contract before entering and creates a new visa system for guest-workers, but also expands the arena of those qualify for legal resident permits. The law arranges for residence permits to be granted to researchers, ‘highly qualified foreign workers,’ undocumented immigrants who are already employed legally or running their own registered businesses and children born in Portugal who are attending primary school, as well as undocumented parents of those children. The law also contains an amendment that requires decisions regarding permission for family members abroad who want to join those in Portugal to be shortened from nine to three months. Under the new law, immigrants may now renew visas at local city government offices, not only at the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) offices. The High Commission for Immigrants and Ethnic Minorities (ACIME) will extend its previously existing services in an effort to "make the State the principle source of help for the integration of immigrants."
The law does punish human trafficking, illegal immigration and "marriages of convenience." It also punishes businesses hiring undocumented workers and permits residency to immigrants without visas who are "victims of labor exploitation and choose to denounce their employers." It stipulates that foreigners who are not allowed to enter Portugal must be told in a language they understand why authorities are denying them entry, and that the decision "must be communicated to the diplomatic mission of their country of origin."
Many of the improvements in immigrants’ rights granted by the law have been promoted by immigrant rights groups such as the Immigrant Solidarity Association (Solidariedade de Imigrante, Associação para a Defensa dos Direitos dos Imigrantes) and the General Assembly of the Casa do Brasil, an association for Brazilian immigrants.
These groups recognize the gains made by the law, but also lament that steps were not taken to legalize all immigrants. According to Eduardo Tavares de Lima, president of the General Assembly of the Casa do Brasil, many immigrants, including all Brazilians who entered Portugal after July 11, 2003 continue to be illegal.
He also stressed the importance of "thousands of (illegal) immigrants, particularly those from Portuguese-speaking African countries who have been here for over a quarter of a century, and have played a vital role in the building of modern Portugal."
The law does not conform to the inclination of the European Union to seek tighter border controls and stricter immigration laws.