Access to the labour market


Country Report: Access to the labour market Last updated: 21/05/21


Portuguese Refugee Council Visit Website

The Asylum Act provides for the right of asylum seekers to access the labour market following admission to the regular procedure and the issuance of a provisional residence permit.[1] In case of admission to the regular procedure, access to the labour market can therefore be granted after 7 days in the context of the border procedure or after 10 to 30 days in procedures on the territory.[2] Furthermore, asylum seekers entitled to access the labour market can also benefit from support measures and programmes in the area of employment and vocational training under specific conditions to be determined by the competent Ministries.[3]

There are no limitations attached to the right of asylum seekers to employment such as labour market tests or prioritisation of nationals and legally resident third country nationals. The issuance and renewal of provisional residence permits by SEF, which clearly state the right to employment,[4] are free of charge.[5] The only restriction on employment enshrined in the law consists in limiting access to certain categories of the public sector for all third-country nationals.[6]

Asylum seekers benefit from the same conditions of employment as nationals, including regarding salaries and working hours.[7] The law provides, however, for specific formalities in the case of employment contracts of third-country nationals such as the need for a written contract and its (online) registration with the Authority for Labour Conditions (Autoridade para as Condições do Trabalho, ACT).[8]

With the exception of the submission of beneficiaries of international protection to the same conditions applicable to Portuguese nationals,[9] there are no specific rules regarding the recognition of diplomas and academic qualifications in the Asylum Act. 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,[10] such as:

  • The presentation of diplomas,[11] and, eventually, of additional supporting documents;[12]
  • The presentation of duly translated and legalised documents;[13]
  • 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;[14] and
  • The completion of a competency examination.[15]

In line with similar measures adopted in 2016,[16] in 2020, the Directorate-General for Education (DGE) and the National Agency for Qualification and Vocational Education (ANQEP) issued a joint circular letter[17] regarding extraordinary educational measures applicable to children and young people 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, if an applicant for/beneficiary of international protection has documents proving the academic/professional qualifications, in order to obtain an equivalence, the relevant norms[18] apply but he/she is exempt from translating[19] and legalising the certificates/diplomas. Processes are analysed by DGE (primary, lower, and upper secondary levels) or by ANQEP (other qualifications, excluding higher education). Specific measures are foreseen to cases where the applicant has no relevant documents, however, in such cases, no equivalence is granted (see Access to Education).

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.

These guidelines are only applicable to children within the compulsory school age (6 to 18 years old).

There are no statistics available on the number of asylum seekers in employment at the end of 2020. The Employment and Vocational Training Institute (Instituto do Emprego e Formação Profissional,IEFP),[20] was not able to provide data on applicants and beneficiaries of international protection registered in their services for 2020.

According to CPR’s experience, asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection face many challenges in securing employment that are both general and specific in nature.

Even though the economic situation of the country has improved from pre-crisis levels, in December 2020 the unemployment rate still stood at around 6.5% for the general working population.[21] This adverse context is compounded by specific fragilities that include poor language skills and professional skills that are misaligned with the needs of employers.

Challenges of a more bureaucratic nature include: difficulties in obtaining recognition of diplomas as described above (particularly relevant for regulated professions); lack of a social security identification number (Número de Identificação da Segurança Social, NISS) or fiscal identification number at the time of application and bureaucratic difficulties in the issuance of a NISS on the basis of the provisional residence permit; or the provisional residence permit stating not to be an identification document.[22] As a result, employers are sometimes reluctant to hire asylum seekers. Additional challenges include the lack of support network, limited knowledge about the labour market and cultural norms, difficulties in accessing certified training due to lack of proof of prior qualifications, and the competition in the labour market. In the particular case of victims of torture and/or serious violence, these include specific vulnerabilities related to health, mental health and high levels of anxiety related to the uncertainty of the asylum procedure, separation from relatives, and financial instability that hinder the ability to focus on a medium-long term individual integration process (see Special Reception Needs).

Within the context of the coronavirus pandemic and following the implementation of the state of emergency in March 2020, CPR registered obstacles in the scheduling of appointments for the issuance of fiscal identification numbers to applicants for international protection. Language and technological barriers precluded scheduling by phone/online.[23] The fiscal number is required for several procedures and daily activities, such as registration with IEFP.

CPR also registered difficulties in the issuance of ISS numbers, necessary to access relevant benefits.

These obstacles were eventually overcome following reiterated contacts with the competent services.

CPR provides literacy and Portuguese language training free of charge to asylum seekers who are accommodated at CAR, CACR, in private housing provided by the institution, and to asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection assisted by other institutions that live nearby CPR’s facilities or that can easily reach them. This training includes a sociocultural component, with activities inside and outside the classrooms, aiming to promote integration in the hosting society.

Asylum seekers are able to register with IEFP to access to Portuguese language training. Until 2020, such language training was provided within the framework of the programme “Portuguese for All” (Português para Todos), an initiative of the Ministry of Employment, Solidarity and Social Security and the Ministry of Education,[24] managed by ACM and funded by the European Social Fund. In August 2020, the framework for Portuguese language training was revised by Ministerial Order 183/2020 of 5 August.[25]

Among the challenges encountered in this area was the lack of training tailored to asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection who may present low levels of education/illiteracy/poor knowledge of the Latin alphabet, compounded by limited availability of alphabetic training for foreigners, as well as limited availability of training at B1 and B2 levels due to group size requirements. This was particularly challenging in certain parts of the country with lower numbers of eligible learners.

The new legal framework for public Portuguese language training created the “Portuguese as a host language” courses, and aims to respond to the challenges identified, inter alia:

  • Reducing the size of training groups and the minimum number of trainees required, while maintaining the possibility to exceptionally create groups that are smaller/larger than required;
  • Extending the entities that may organise relevant courses;
  • Introducing a learning unit aimed at trainees that are unfamiliar with the Latin alphabet.

ACM also funds informal language trainings, that are delivered by municipalities and civil society organisations, including CPR.[26]

The pandemic posed significant challenges to the development of Portuguese language courses by CPR throughout the year. These were due to the general obstacles to remote language teaching, but also to the difficulties experienced by applicants for international protection in accessing and using the necessary equipment and resources.

These challenges, as well as logistical challenges regarding classroom occupancy and social distancing rules, were also reported by IEFP.

The lack of dedicated funding presented an additional challenge to the provision of language training by CPR in 2020. An initial course was conducted in the beginning of the year. A course on communication for job searching was also held between August and September 2020. The approval of dedicated funding allowed the reinstatement of courses in September (7 courses were organised comprising 157 training hours and 32h30m of sociocultural activities).

A partnership between CPR and the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences of NOVA University enabled the referral of applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection to Portuguese language classes throughout the year.

In March 2016, ACM launched an Online Platform for Portuguese to promote informal learning of Portuguese. The modules are currently available in Arabic in order to tackle the needs of the asylum seekers.

CPR’s Professional Insertion Cabinet (GIP), which operates at CAR since 2001 in the framework of a MoU with IEFP, offers individual assistance and training sessions on job search techniques, recognition procedures, search and referrals to vocational training and volunteering opportunities.

Despite the adjustments imposed to service provision within the context of the coronavirus pandemic (e.g., whenever possible, information and assistance were provided by remote means), the continuity of integration-related support provided by CPR was ensured throughout the whole year.

Other organisations that provide similar employment assistance to spontaneous asylum applicants, and, more recently, to relocated asylum seekers, include JRS that also offers a robust employability programme in partnership with private sponsors as well as personal skills training and vocational training in areas such as food retail, domestic services, geriatric care, food and beverage, hostelries or childcare.[27]

Upon admission to the regular procedure, asylum seekers can also register as “job applicants” with the IEFP, being able to search for jobs, and benefit from vocational training and assistance.

While there are no specific programmes targeting applicants for and beneficiaries for international protection, IEFP has included asylum seekers admitted to the regular procedure and beneficiaries of international protection among the target population of some of its employability support measures.

Governmental programmes Estágios ATIVAR.PT (which provides for 9 month paid internships) and Incentivo ATIVAR.PT (which provides financial incentives to employers who recruit employees for 12 months or longer under the obligation to provide them with vocational training)[28] include refugees in its priority groups.[29] As such, applicants are exempt of the need to be registered with IEFP for a certain period to be eligible and the financial support provided to the employer is increased by 10%.

Regarding vocational training, the low level of language skills associated with the lack of diplomas and/or potentially challenging recognition procedures described above, render access to vocational training offered by IEFP and its partners within the public system challenging to most asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection while vocational training in the private sector is generally unaffordable. In this regard, as of 2018 asylum seekers admitted to the regular procedure and beneficiaries of international protection whose diplomas and academic qualifications have not been recognised in the Portuguese educational system are registered by IEFP as “literate users” in the SIGO platform.[30] Other than Portuguese language training courses, such registration only provides access to: (a) modular training[31] at basic education level; (b) training in basic skills (reading, writing, calculation and information and communication technologies) in preparation for EFA Courses; and (c) Education and Training Courses for Adults (Cursos de Educação e Formação para Adultos, EFA) with equivalence to the 4th or 6th year of basic education or a professional certificate.[32] Neither modular training nor training in basic skills entail an academic certification.

In the context of relocation, ACM has created a Refugee Support Unit as well as tailored services within the National and Local Support Centres for the Support of Migrants (Centros Nacionais e Locais de Apoio à Integração de Migrantes, CNAIM/CLAIM) to support asylum seekers (e.g., hiring a permanent Arabic-speaking intercultural mediator, promoting entrepreneurship training for refugees). A number of services, such as free legal support and information on employment, training and recognition of qualifications, provided by multiple institutions, are available at CNAIM, a space also known as one-stop-shop. ACM has also launched the Refujobs online platform, that aims to match potential employers and asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection looking for employment as well as to build their capacity for self-employment. Since 2018, ACM and the Institute of Tourism (Instituto do Turismo) have a partnership for the provision of certified vocational training for applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection.[33]



[1] Articles 54(1) and 27(1) Asylum Act.

[2] The 10 days correspond to the time limit of admissibility decisions in subsequent applications and applications following a removal order (on the territory) and the 30 days to the remaining admissibility procedures in the territory: Articles 33(4)-(5), 33-A (5) and 20(1) Asylum Act.

[3]  Article 55 Asylum Act.

[4] Ministerial Order 597/2015.

[5] Article 84 Asylum Act.

[6] Article 15(2) Constitution and Article 17(1)(a) and (2) Act 35/2014.

[7]  Article 4 Labour Code.

[8] Article 5 Labour Code.

[9]  Article 70(3) Asylum Act.

[10]  Decree-Law 227/2005.

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

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

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

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

[15] The content of the examination 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.

[16]  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:

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

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

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

[20]  The Employment and Vocational Training Institute (IEFP) is the public service responsible for employment at national level. For more information, see the official website available in Portuguese at:

[21]  Eurostat, ‘Euro area unemployment at 8.3%’, 1 February 2021, available at:

[22]  Ministerial Order 597/2015.

[23]  Difficulties in obtaining the fiscal number were also reported by Crescer.

[24]  Ministerial Order 1262/2009 and Ministerial Order 216-B/2012.

[25]  Available at: A guide by IEFP on the organisation of trainings under the new framework is available at:

[26]  For more information on these programmes see ACM, Learning of the Portuguese Language, available at:

[27] For 2018, see JRS, Projecto Integra +, available in Portuguese at:, which provided support to 22 trainees, of whom 19 were able to secure employment by the end of the 5-month programme.

[28] Additional information is available at:

[29] It was not possible to confirm whether applicants for international protection admitted to the regular procedure are also included as was the case with previous similar programmes.

[30]  Integrated Information and Management System for Education and Training Courses (Sistema Integrado de Informação e Gestāo da Oferta Educativa e Formativa, SIGO) which contains a national catalogue of education and training courses offered by training institutions at national level and the certification of individual trainees: DGEEC, ‘Sobre o Sistema Integrado de Informação e Gestão da Oferta Educativa e Formativa’, 3 July 2017, available in Portuguese at:

[31] Modular training aims to refresh and improve the practical and theoretical knowledge of adults and improve their educational and vocational training levels. For more information see IEFP, Fomação Modular, available in Portuguese at:

[32]  IEFP, Cursos de Educação e Formação para Adultos (Cursos EFA), available in Portuguese at:

[33] Observatory for Migration, Entrada, Acolhimento e Integração de Requerentes e Beneficiários de Protecção Internacional em Portugal – Relatório Estatístico do Asilo 2020, May 2020, p 211, 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