Is Migration the Way Forward in Portugal?

Catarina de Pedro/ February 24, 2021/

Catarina de Pedro, Cláudia Loureiro, Maria Mariana Moura, Marta Spínola e Rita Pereira[1]


According to Eurostat data, Portugal has the 5th lowest birth rate in the European Union. The national population, however, has increased which, as the deaths exceed births, has been sustained by resorting to immigration levels.

This article’s main focus will be the analysis of the impacts of migration on the future of the Portuguese economy, with a special focus on the concept of “replacement migration”.

Keywords: replacement migration; immigration levels; ageing populations; Portugal.


Replacement migration refers to the international migration that would be needed to offset declines in the size of the population, the declines in the population of working age, as well as to offset the overall ageing of the population, a transformation of the age structure leading to relatively greater proportions of the older age groups, brought about by the decline of fertility and increased longevity[2].

Nowadays, this phenomenon is evident in the more developed countries’ societies, a tendency that does not seem to be headed to an end. Thus, it becomes interesting to analyse the migration factor and its importance in the rebalance of the total population in such societies, an element that may surpass the fertility one. The UN Study “Replacement Migration: Is it A Solution to Declining and Ageing Populations?” analysed the impact of the migration levels in the demographic indices and concluded that, in order to achieve an ideal balance, the migration levels would have to be much higher than the ones we experience nowadays, in some cases unrealistic even (Peixoto et al), thus setting immigration very far from being a sufficient resource to reach such a goal in itself.

Portugal’s Case

In Portugal, there is a consensus that both migrants and migration have a positive impact on the country’s development, through their skills as well as savings and remittances, influencing the economy, the social security system (by balancing the active contributors’ ratio and the elderly beneficiaries), the labour market, demographic change and cultural and social innovation[3].

Replacement migration may be the future of the Portuguese economy, so it is necessary to implement long-term migration strategies that encourage the integration of migrants in Portuguese society, granting them access to all rights and duties (e.g. political, social). Therefore, the Portuguese State must bet on policies for the regularisation and inclusion of migrants in the labour market, influencing not only the fight against irregular migration but also the development and personal growth of the migrant who is granted all the rights to be part of society.

Increasing the regularisation of migrants will help in the demographic balance and it will improve the Portuguese economy in the long term. The study carried out by Cáritas Portuguesa in 2019, analysed how the nexus between development and migration can benefit our country in the future:

if Portugal were to close the doors to immigration, it would shrink from its current population of 10.4 million to 7.8 million by 2060

Portugal has a policy of integrating migrants, combating xenophobic, nationalist, and anti-immigration behaviour[4]. Still, it is necessary to analyse what can be done so that the country remains receptive and welcoming to migrants. Their contribution is undeniable, whether culturally, economically or socially. Migrants contribute to the growth of the Portuguese economy through investment in new businesses, savings, and remittances, and with their skills that fill sectors in the labour market.

Labour immigration has a clear influence on the economy of the receiving country since migrants contribute to the payment of taxes, social security, and increased productivity of the economy, as they expand the Portuguese workforce. The presence of migrants in the country has had a strong positive influence on the Portuguese state finances[5].

However, migration is not just a “future saviour” for the Portuguese economy, as its impact transcends the economic issue, also acting at an educational or cultural level:

“The Portuguese feel the benefits of immigration, not only economically but also in the expansion of diversity, qualifications, the environment of tolerance, to the world and greater cosmopolitanism.”

Strategic Plan for Migration (2015-2020), Government of Portugal

The regularisation of migrants has the consequence of improving the conditions of these human beings, who can thus grant their families a dignified life. This inclusion in society leads to an increase in the number of young people of school age due to the children of migrants who end up being inserted into the Portuguese educational system[6]. The increase in multiculturalism and the encounter of different cultures is also beneficial for the cultural development of the country, giving rise to new forms of literature, gastronomic mixtures, innovating, and building a more inclusive and multicultural society.

However, the main focus of our article is the impact of migration on the Portuguese economy, so: how can migration be crucial for the future of the Portuguese economy?

In 2017, Peixoto et al. carried out a study[7] whose objective was to observe the migration-development nexus as a potentially crucial point for the Portuguese future. The results enhanced the need to maintain a positive migration input that results in demographic balance, contributing to the containment of society’s ageing process and the consequent continuation of work activity.

It is important to highlight that in Portugal there is a special need to take care of the balance between emigration and immigration in order to ensure demographic sustainability. This is not to say that demography must be guaranteed at any cost, but that emigration and immigration must be taken into account in public policy measures that aim to ensure the necessary balance.

This consideration is relevant when examining the human resources that are necessary to ensure the proper development of the Portuguese economy today and in the coming years, which without a migration scenario runs the risk of becoming precarious. Migration acts as a key factor to enhance the needs of demographic change and increase the supply of workers responding to the demands of the Portuguese economy at all required levels.

Furthermore, it should be noted that in the long run, the influx of immigrants has advantages in terms of profits for Portuguese public finances, social security, and especially the old-age pension system.

There is a continuing need to ensure a positive migration input to assure that some demographic balance is maintained. In Europe, population maintenance needs to meet the immigration levels. In the Portuguese case, it must be remembered that the equation for demographic sustainability requires Portugal to consider moderate emigration and the consequent guarantee of sustained immigration, accompanied by other policy measures.


For migration to play a fundamental role in the future of the Portuguese economy, it is necessary to invest in regulatory policies that encourage life quality, health access, education, equal treatment, political participation, and to combat the attribution of lower wages to migrants by practicing equal pay policies between nationals and immigrants, taking migration as a beneficial instrument for Portugal.

C. DE PEDRO & al., Is Migration the Way Forward in Portugal?, NOVA Refugee Clinic Blog, February 2021, available at <>

[1] Catarina de Pedro is a second-year Master student in International and European Law at NOVA School of Law and a member of the Migration & Development line of research of the NOVA Refugee Clinic.

Cláudia Loureiro is a Post-Doctoral student in Law at NOVA School of Law, Post-Doctorate in Human Rights Faculdade de Direito da Universidade de Coimbra and member of the Migration & Development line of research of the NOVA Refugee Clinic.

Maria Mariana Moura is a PhD student at NOVA School of Law and Team Leader of the Migration &  Development line of research of the NOVA Refugee Clinic.

Marta Spínola de Freitas is graduating in Law (3rd year) at Nova School of Law. An active member of ELSA Nova Lisboa, Nova School of Law Rhetoric Group and volunteer projects.

Rita Pereira is a first-year Master student in International and European Law at NOVA School of Law and a member of the Migration & Development line of research of the NOVA Refugee Clinic.

[2] Replacement Migration: Is it A Solution to Declining and Ageing Populations? UN, available at:

[3] Common Home – Migration and Development in Portugal by Cáritas Portuguesa, 2019, available at:

[4] Supra, 2

[5]Indicadores de Integração de Imigrantes 2018, Observatório das Migrações, available at:

[6] Supra, 2

[7] Migrações e sustentabilidade demográfica – perspetivas de evolução da sociedade e economia portuguesas, available at:

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About Catarina de Pedro

Mestranda em Direito Internacional e Europeu pela NOVA School of Law e Licenciada em Relações Internacionais pela Universidade de Coimbra.