Portugal scraps 'manifestation of interest' clause in latest immigration crackdown



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Portugal is trying to shake off its reputation as one of Europe’s most welcoming countries for immigrants, with its right-leaning government taking the ax to yet another scheme previously designed to attract foreign workers.

Authorities have revoked a “manifestation of interest” mechanism in Portugal’s visa rules, which had allowed hundreds of thousands of migrants to obtain residency in the country with relative ease.

‘Manifestation of interest’

Under this clause, non-EU citizens were allowed to come to Portugal without an employment contract before being able to apply for residency after making a year of social security payments.

It was an ideal residency route for digital nomads, who would pay social security while working remote jobs in Portugal. 

It was also a popular option for workers in lower-paying and more precarious fields who might have struggled to secure work before arriving in the country, Reuters reports, citing Migration Observatory research.

Proponents of Portugal’s easy residency route say it helped absorb more people into the country’s legal economy, allowing them to contribute to the tax system immediately while searching for more permanent arrangements.

Opponents blame Portugal’s housing crisis on an influx of foreigners, an accusation which has been contested from the left.

Around 14% of taxpayers in the country are migrants, who contributed €1.6 billion ($1.7 billion) to Portugal’s economy in 2022. They took out €257 million ($280 million) in social security benefits by comparison.

Portugal’s Prime Minister Luis Montenegro is on a rampage against immigration—an issue that is boosting right-leaning parties across Europe.

“We need people in Portugal willing to help us build a fairer and more prosperous society,” he said. “But we cannot go to the other extreme and have wide-open doors.”

The government will set up new loopholes in the visa that will give priority to certain individuals, including those from Portuguese-speaking countries, students and high-skill workers.

Portuguese outlet Publico reports immigrants from countries like India, Nepal, and Bangladesh are likely to be most affected by the changes.

Montenegro says there are currently 400,000 regularization processes pending, which the government is expected to handle by hiring more staff and creating a special task force.

Portugal’s migrant policy shift

Since coming into power in April, Montenegro has accelerated what was already a concerted policy program against immigration in Portugal.

The country scrapped large parts of its golden visa program last year, which previously allowed foreigners to take up residency by buying property worth at least €350,000 ($380,000) in popular cities like Porto and Lisbon. 

Lawmakers announced later that year that they would scrap Portugal’s non-habitual residency (NHR) tax scheme in 2024, which allowed foreigners to reside in the country for up to 10 years, paying a flat income tax of 20%. This is thought to have sparked a wave of applications for residency before the scheme was closed.

The hope was that those policies would stop wealthy citizens from pricing Portuguese locals out of the housing market, with a report by the Migration Observatory finding young workers were increasingly holding down two jobs or leaving the country altogether in search of a more affordable life.

However, the latest policies appear to target low-skill migrant workers, who will face yet another barrier to entering the country, while early indications show house prices in Lisbon continued to outpace European peers.

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