Access to education


Country Report: Access to education Last updated: 10/07/24


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The Asylum Act provides for the right of asylum-seeking children to public education under the same conditions as nationals and third-country nationals whose mother tongue is not Portuguese.[1] This right cannot be curtailed if the asylum seeker reaches adulthood while already attending school to complete secondary education.[2] The Ministry in charge of education is responsible for ensuring the right of children to education.[3]

The general rules for the recognition of foreign qualifications at primary, lower, and upper secondary levels include conditions that are particularly challenging for asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection,[4] such as:

  • The presentation of documents certifying academic qualifications,[5] and, eventually, of additional supporting documents;[6]
  • The presentation of duly translated and legalised documents;[7]
  • In the absence of such documents, the presentation of a sworn statement issued by the applicant or their parents or legal guardian accompanied by a statement from an Embassy or a reception organisation related to the country of origin confirming exceptional individual circumstances;[8] and the completion of a competency tests.[9]

Considering the challenges faced by child applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection in this regard, in 2020, the Directorate-General for Education (DGE) and the National Agency for Qualification and Vocational Education and Training (ANQEP) issued a circular letter[10] defining extraordinary educational measures applicable to child applicants for/beneficiaries of international protection. It clarifies procedures for the recognition of academic qualifications/school placement, the progressive integration in the Portuguese education system, and provides for the reinforcement of Portuguese language training and school social support. These guidelines are only applicable to children within the compulsory school age (6 to 18 years old).

Accordingly, with regard to the recognition of qualifications/school placement:

  • In the absence of documents proving the academic/professional qualifications (e.g. certificates, diplomas), applicants must present the following elements: (i) a sworn statement issued by the applicant, their parents or legal guardian, specifying the number of school years completed; (ii) a statement by a competent authority (such as SEF, CPR or ACM) confirming exceptional individual circumstances.[11] If any document concerning previous qualifications is available to the applicant, it should be added to the process. In this case the applicant is integrated in the education system, but no equivalence/recognition is granted. Placement must consider the age of the applicant and the corresponding school level. School attendance must be ensured during the first month following enrolment and may be progressive. While the analysis is pending, the applicant must be conditionally enrolled in school enabling them to attend the corresponding activities.
  • If documents proving the academic/professional qualifications are available, in order to obtain an equivalence, the relevant norms[12] apply, but applicants are exempt from translating[13] and legalising the certificates/diplomas. Processes are analysed by DGE (primary, lower, and upper secondary levels) or by ANQEP (other qualifications, excluding higher education). School attendance must be ensured during the first month following enrolment and may be progressive. While the analysis is pending, the applicant must be conditionally enrolled in school enabling them to attend the corresponding activities.

As such, currently, in practice, school placement of children does not require the performance of tests. This has been confirmed by CPR’s experience.

The 2020 circular letter further reaffirmed the increased autonomy of schools in adjusting activities to the specific needs of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection. Such adaptations include a progressive convergence with the regular curriculum by temporarily exempting students from certain subjects and providing additional Portuguese language classes. The guidelines also clarify the entitlement of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection to the various modalities of social assistance available to students enrolled in the public education sector for the purposes of food, accommodation, financial assistance and school supplies.[14] Furthermore, the circular letter recommends the creation of multidisciplinary teams in hosting schools to support response to specific needs. However, such teams must be created with existing resources.

In the course of 2020, several reference documents were created to support schools and teachers. The relevant instruments are available online.[15]

A Ministerial Order issued in 2022 by the Secretary of State of Education,[16] defined further rules to support students whose first language is not Portuguese. This allows schools to adopt specific integration and support measures, based on the situation of each student.

In practice, accompanied and unaccompanied children are systematically referred to public schools upon accommodation at CAR and CACR or contact with CPR’s social workers. According to the experience of the organisation, enrolment in local public schools is generally guaranteed within a reasonable period (on average, two weeks).

Unaccompanied children enrolling in upper secondary education are usually enrolled in an area of their interest with subsequent adjustments introduced afterwards considering the individual progress. Progressive integration in school is also possible. According to the experience of CPR, this has been positive, allowing a smoother integration in the education system and faster language learning.

Nevertheless, CPR has highlighted the need to consider other frequent challenges, such as the lack of resources in certain schools to ensure the necessary teaching of Portuguese language as well as the lack of literacy courses.

UNICEF[17] has also reported similar observations, adding that, inter alia, the reception of spontaneous unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in different parts of the country has created challenges to the school enrolment due to the lack of awareness of the relevant services.

Following the 2022 amendment, the Asylum Act establishes that all asylum seekers are entitled to access vocational training.[18]

Nevertheless, according to CPR’s experience, access to vocational training by adults remains particularly limited as opportunities generally require a good command of the Portuguese language and diplomas that asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection rarely have or are unable to legalise due to the legal requirements of recognition procedures (see Access to the Labour Market).

In the case of unaccompanied children, according to CPR’s experience, access to vocational training is only possible if they have a certain level of education (e.g. if they completed the 6th grade in Portugal or if they state having previously attended secondary education), regardless of prior professional experience, for instance.

A study focusing on the situation of asylum-seeking unaccompanied children and ageing out in Portugal published in 2021 revealed that, out of those consulted 55.2% felt safe in school and only 4.5% disagreed. The report also observed that there is an overall positive image of teachers and of the overall school context.[19] With regard to integration, however, language barriers have been mentioned as a significant challenge.[20]

Regarding higher education, the Government introduced the ‘student in an emergency situation for humanitarian reasons’ status in 2018,[21] following a review of the Portuguese educational system by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).[22]

The status can be claimed by any non-Portuguese or EU student who originates from a region affected by armed conflict, natural disaster, generalised violence or human rights violations requiring a humanitarian response.[23] According to the law, beneficiaries of international protection and asylum seekers admitted to the regular procedure are entitled to the status by operation of the law.[24]

Students with ‘emergency situation for humanitarian reasons’ status are entitled to alternative procedures for assessing entry conditions in the absence of documentation such as diplomas,[25] equal treatment to Portuguese students regarding university fees and other levies,[26] and full access to social assistance available to higher education students.[27] It should be noted that the rules do not address the issue of access to entry visas for eligible students living abroad.[28]

With regard to the recognition of higher education degrees and diplomas, the law provides for the possibility of the exemption of documentary evidence in processes concerning applicants in an emergency situation for humanitarian reasons where the qualifications cannot be proved due to that situation.[29] Such exemptions are analysed on a case-by-case basis. In 2020, this possibility was extended to situations where the applicant cannot prove their qualifications due to circumstances affecting the regular functioning of the institutions of the State concerned.[30]

It is unclear to CPR whether this status has an effective impact on access to higher education by applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection.




[1] Article 53(1) Asylum Act.

[2] Article 53(2) Asylum Act.

[3] Article 61(4) Asylum Act. For information regarding the functioning of early childhood education and care in Portugal, see

[4] Decree-Law 227/2005. In general, enrolment in schools (primary, lower and upper secondary education levels) requires a procedure for the recognition of foreign academic qualifications, but children must be granted immediate access to schools and classes while that procedure is pending (article 8(5) Decree-Lawy 227/2005.

[5] Article 7(2) Decree-Law 227/2005.

[6] Article 7(4) Decree-Law 227/2005.

[7] Article 7(2) Decree-Law 227/2005.

[8] Article 10(1) and (2) Decree-Law 227/2005.

[9] The content of the test varies according to the level of education and the curriculum, but always includes a Portuguese as a Second Language. See Article 10(5) and (6) Decree-Law 227/2005.

[10] Circular letter – DGE and ANQEP, Medidas educativas de integração de crianças e jovens no sistema educativo, August 2020, available at:

[11] Applicants previously identified by governmental entities are exempt of presenting this statement.

[12] Decree-Law 227/2005 of 28 December (primary, lower and upper secondary levels) and Order 13584/2014 of 10 November.

[13] Only if the documents are written in German, Spanish, French or English.

[14] Ministry of Education Legislative Order 8452-A/2015 of 31 July 2015, as amended by Legislative Order 7255/2018 of 31 July 2018.

[15] Available at

[16] Order no.2044/2022, of 16 February 2022, available at:

[17] Per the information provided by UNICEF to the 2023 AIDA Update.

[18] Article 55(1) Asylum Act.

[19] Sandra Roberto, Carla Moleiro, ed. Observatório das Migrações, De menor a maior: acolhimento e autonomia de vida em menores não acompanhados, April 2021, p.44, available at:

[20] Ibid, 54.

[21] Article 8A Decree-Law 36/2014, inserted by Decree-Law 62/2018.

[22] OECD, OECD Reviews of School Resources: Portugal 2018, December 2018, available at:

[23] Article 8A(1) Decree-Law 36/2014.

[24] Article 8A(2) (a) and (b) and 3(a) Decree-Law 36/2014.

[25] Article 14(1)(c) Decree-Law 36/2014.

[26] Article 8A(5) Decree-Law 36/2014.

[27] Article 10(1) Decree-Law 36/2014.

[28] For a critical assessment of Decree-Law 36/2014, see JRS, Estudante em Situação de Emergência por Razões Humanitárias: Mais um direito sem visto?, November 2018, available in Portuguese at:

[29] Article 13 Ministerial Order 33/2019 of 25 January, available at:

[30] Article 14 Ministerial Order 33/2019 of 25 January, available at:

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation