Access to education


Country Report: Access to education Last updated: 30/11/20


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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 retains sole responsibility to ensure the right of children to education.[3]

Enrolment in schools at 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.[4] Given that asylum seekers are rarely in possession of duly legalised diplomas and other supporting documents, the procedure generally entails a placement test conducted by the school that takes into consideration the age and school year of the applicant.[5] 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.[6]

In 2016, DGE issued a circular letter which grants schools inter alia with increased autonomy for adapting pedagogical activities to the specific needs of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection; e.g. by focusing on Portuguese language learning for non-native speakers (Português Língua Não Materna, PLNM) and providing additional resources for that purpose (see Access to the Labour Market).[7] Such adaptations include a progressive convergence with the regular curriculum by temporarily exempting students from certain subjects and 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.[8] In 2018, the national curriculum in public and private schools regarding primary, lower and upper secondary education levels further enshrined the principle of access to Portuguese language learning for non-native speakers both in the framework of academic and vocational curricula.[9]

Regarding higher education, the Government introduced the “student in an emergency situation for humanitarian reasons” status in 2018,[10] following a review of the Portuguese educational system by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).[11] 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.[12] 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.[13] 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,[14] equal treatment to Portuguese students regarding university fees and other levies,[15] and full access to social assistance available to higher education students.[16] It should be noted that the new rules do not address the issue of access to entry visas for eligible students living abroad.[17]

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, although the placement of students in secondary education (i.e. over the age of 15) can be more problematic due to more demanding bureaucratic procedures and placement examinations. Additionally, resources available in public schools for the provision of complementary support to foreign students, notably regarding Portuguese language training, are at times limited. These findings regarding access to education by asylum-seeking children have also been confirmed in 2017 by CNIS regarding unaccompanied children hosted in the framework of their pilot project,[18] and hosting organisations regarding relocated asylum seekers in the framework of informal consultations conducted by UNHCR and CPR.

According to the information provided by DGE in 2019 regarding the implementation of its 2016 circular letter aiming at adapting pedagogical activities to the specific needs of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection, all children and young people under the scope of European Agenda on Migration are included in the national education system. DGE further reported that adapted responses for migrant and refugee children are being implemented in all schools and that, in addition to the measures included in the circular letter, specific requests made by schools are addressed. DGE also reported that, while there are difficulties inherent to these situations, exceptional activities beyond those prescribed by law are also developed in order to address the challenges.

The review of the Portuguese educational system conducted in 2018 by the OECD does not specifically address the situation of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection. While acknowledging the impressive accomplishments of Portugal in recent years, it nonetheless raises concerns regarding persisting differences in the outcomes of students from under-privileged backgrounds, including immigrant students,[19] with immigrant, language and ethnic backgrounds remaining highly predictive of their performance in school.[20]

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.[21]

In 2018 and 2019 some unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were referred to Education and Vocational Training Integrated Programmes (Programas Integrados de Educação e Formação, PIEF) regardless of their residence status.[22]

Access to vocational training by adults on the other hand 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).


[1] Article 53(1) Asylum Act.

[2] Article 53(2) Asylum Act.

[3] Article 61(4) Asylum Act.

[4] Article 8(5) Decree-Law 227/2005.

[5] Article 10(3) Decree-Law 227/2005.

[6] Article 11(2), (3) and (4) Decree-Law 227/2005.

[7] DGE, Agenda Europeia para as Migrações – medidas a implementar no sistema educativo, 1 March 2016, available in Portuguese at: and DGE, Crianças e jovens refugiados – medidas a implementar no sistema educativo, 21 October 2016, available in Portuguese at:

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

[9] Articles 1, 2(1) and 6(2)(j) Decree Law 55/2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[17] 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:

[18] CNIS also reported difficulties in the transition from the regular track to vocational training in the case of unaccompanied children covered by their pilot project.

[19] OECD, OECD Reviews of School Resources: Portugal 2018, December 2018, 13, 19 and 64. 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…”

[20] Ibid, 22.

[21]Article 55(1) Asylum Act.

[22] The PIEFs consist of alternative education / training programmes available to children e.g. who have not completed 4 years of education at the age of 15 or who are 3 years older than the appropriate age of students in any given level at basic or secondary education. Such programmes, initially created to combat the exploitation of child labour, have proved useful in dealing with particularly complex cases of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children with very poor education levels at arrival: DGE, Programa Integrado de Educação e Formação, available in Portuguese 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