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. This right cannot be curtailed if the asylum seeker reaches adulthood while already attending school to complete secondary education. The Ministry in charge of education retains sole responsibility to ensure the right of children to education.
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.
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, such as:
- The presentation of documents certifying academic qualifications, and, eventually, of additional supporting documents;
- The presentation of duly translated and legalised documents;
- In the absence of such documents, a sworn statement issued by the applicant or his/her 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; and the completion of a competency tests.
Given that asylum seekers are rarely in possession of duly legalised diplomas and other supporting documents, the procedure generally entailed a placement test conducted by the school taking into consideration the age and school year of the applicant. In accordance with the law, schools should offer children in these conditions appropriate pedagogical support to overcome their difficulties on the basis of an individual diagnosis, notably regarding their Portuguese language skills.
In line with similar measures adopted in 2016, in 2020, the Directorate-General for Education (DGE) and the National Agency for Qualification and Vocational Education and Training (ANQEP) issued a circular letter regarding extraordinary educational measures applicable to children applicants for/beneficiaries of international protection. It focuses on clarifying procedures for the recognition of academic qualifications/school placement, the progressive integration in the Portuguese education system, and on 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, his/her parents or legal guardian, specifying the number of school years completed; a statement by a competent authority (such as SEF, CPR or ACM) confirming exceptional individual circumstances. If any document concerning previous qualifications is available to the applicant, it should be added to the process. In this case, no equivalence/recognition is granted, the applicant is integrated in the education system. 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 him/her to attend the corresponding activities.
- If documents proving the academic/professional qualifications are available, in order to obtain an equivalence, the relevant norms apply but applicants are exempt from translating 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 him/her to attend the corresponding activities.
As such, currently, in practice, school placement of children does not require the performance of tests.
The 2020 circular letter further reaffirmed the increased autonomy of schools in adjusting pedagogical 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. Furthermore, the circular letter recommends the creation of multidisciplinary teams in hosting schools to support response to specific needs. 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.
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. 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 adequate solutions to children over 15 years old with little or very low education. In the absence of dedicated solutions, these children are included in existing pathways (such as adult training) that are not necessarily adjusted to their needs.
The review of the Portuguese educational system conducted in 2018 by the OECD did not specifically address the situation of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection. While acknowledging the impressive accomplishments of Portugal in previous years, it nonetheless raised concerns regarding persisting differences in the outcomes of students from under-privileged backgrounds, including immigrant students, with immigrant, language and ethnic backgrounds remaining highly predictive of their performance in school.
The Asylum Act limits vocational training to asylum seekers who are entitled to access the labour market, i.e., admitted to the regular procedure and in possession of a provisional residence permit.
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).
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. With regards to integration, however, language barriers have been mentioned as a significant challenge.
Regarding higher education, the Government introduced the “student in an emergency situation for humanitarian reasons” status in 2018, following a review of the Portuguese educational system by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
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. According to the law, beneficiaries of international protection as well as asylum seekers admitted to the regular procedure under the Asylum Act are entitled to the status by operation of law. 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, equal treatment to Portuguese students regarding university fees and other levies, and full access to social assistance available to higher education students. It should be noted that the rules do not address the issue of access to entry visas for eligible students living abroad.
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. Such exemptions are analysed on a case-by-case basis. In 2020, this possibility was extended to situations where the applicant cannot prove his/her qualifications due to circumstances affecting the regular functioning of the institutions of the State concerned.
According to CPR’s experience, remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic posed several challenges to child applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection that were both general and specific in nature (e.g., challenges in obtaining computers and other necessary IT materials through schools, lack of familiarity with technology and challenges regarding the language of children and their parents). As far as CPR is aware, ACM has developed efforts to overcome challenges in accessing IT equipment through schools for applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection as well as other migrant children.
 Article 53(1) Asylum Act.
 Article 53(2) Asylum Act.
 Article 61(4) Asylum Act.
 Article 8(5) Decree-Law 227/2005.
 Decree-Law 227/2005.
 Article 7(2) Decree-Law 227/2005.
 Article 7(4) Decree-Law 227/2005.
 Article 7(2) Decree-Law 227/2005.
 Article 10(1) and (2) Decree-Law 227/2005.
 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.
 Article 10(3) Decree-Law 227/2005.
 Article 11(2), (3) and (4) Decree-Law 227/2005.
 DGE, Agenda Europeia para as Migrações – medidas a implementar no sistema educativo, 1 March 2016, available in Portuguese at: http://bit.ly/2jqFkok; and DGE, Crianças e jovens refugiados – medidas a implementar no sistema educativo, 21 October 2016, available in Portuguese at: http://bit.ly/2z0dgzf.
 Applicants previously identified by governmental entities are exempt of presenting this statement.
 Decree-Law 227/2005 of 28 December (primary, lower and upper secondary levels) and Order 13584/2014 of 10 November.
 Only if the documents are written in German, Spanish, French or English.
 OECD, OECD Reviews of School Resources: Portugal 2018, December 2018, p. 13, 19 and 64, available at: https://bit.ly/3M0fxLw. It should be noted that according to the report “differences in results are mostly driven by first-generation immigrants… There are no significant performance differences between second-generation immigrants and the native-born population after students’ socio-economic status and home language have been taken into account. In fact, most of these differences in performance are associated with the language spoken at home…”
 Ibid, 22.
 Article 55(1) Asylum Act.
 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: https://bit.ly/3fqMKBK.
 Ibid, p.54.
 Article 8A Decree-Law 36/2014, inserted by Decree-Law 62/2018.
 Article 8A(1) Decree-Law 36/2014.
 Article 8A(2) (a) and (b) and 3(a) Decree-Law 36/2014.
 Article 14(1)(c) Decree-Law 36/2014.
 Article 8A(5) Decree-Law 36/2014.
 Article 10(1) Decree-Law 36/2014.
 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: https://bit.ly/2qIpGF3.