Access to education


Country Report: Access to education Last updated: 21/05/21


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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 entailed 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 line with similar measures adopted in 2016,[7] in 2020, the Directorate-General for Education (DGE) and the National Agency for Qualification and Vocational Education (ANQEP) issued a circular letter[8] regarding extraordinary educational measures applicable to children and young person applicants for/beneficiaries of international protection. Such measures focus on the recognition of academic qualifications/school placement, the progressive integration in the Portuguese education system, the reinforcement of Portuguese language training, and school social support.

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

  • In the absence of documents proving the academic/professional qualifications (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.[9] 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.[10] 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[11] apply but applicants are exempt from translating[12] 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.

While the circular letter bears no reference to an exemption of competency examinations, according to the information provided by DGE, school placement of children does not require the performance of such 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.[13] 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.[14]

Regarding higher education, the Government introduced the “student in an emergency situation for humanitarian reasons” status in 2018,[15] following a review of the Portuguese educational system by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).[16] 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.[17] 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.[18] 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,[19] equal treatment to Portuguese students regarding university fees and other levies,[20] and full access to social assistance available to higher education students.[21] It should be noted that the new rules do not address the issue of access to entry visas for eligible students living abroad.[22]

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.[23] 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.[24]

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 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,[25] with immigrant, language and ethnic backgrounds remaining highly predictive of their performance in school.[26]

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.[27]

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).

Within the context of the coronavirus pandemic, Decree-Law 10-A/2020 of 13 March suspended in-person school activities.[28] The suspension entered into force on 16 March 2020. Detailed legislative provisions concerning education were introduced by Decree-Law 14-G/2020 of 13 April 2020.[29] While certain in-person classes in the upper secondary education level were resumed in May, primary and lower secondary levels only resumed in-person classes in September.[30] Remote learning during the third school term was ensured through specific activities organised by schools and complemented by the television broadcast of classes for all years of primary and lower secondary education levels.

According to CPR’s experience, remote learning posed several challenges to child applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection that were both general and specific in nature (e.g., lack of familiarity with technology and challenges regarding the language of children and their parents).

The staff at CAR provided support to all resident children, ensuring the continuity of study and communication with schools. The library of the centre was used to carry on the school-related activities and additional pedagogical support was also provided. The staff at CAR II also provided support to resident children, registering improvements in liaising with schools in the course of 2020 and in the beginning of 2021.

In CACR, the support provided by the team was also critical, particularly in light of the lack of technological resources and competences. A number of computers were donated by private actors and local authorities for the purposes of home schooling.



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

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

[10] In the absence of any relevant information, placement must consider the age of the applicant and the corresponding school level.

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

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

[14] Available at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[22] 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:

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

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

[25] 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…”

[26]  Ibid, 22.

[27]  Article 55(1) Asylum Act.

[28]  Available at:

[29]  Available at:

[30]  A summary of the most relevant features of the third school term is 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