Access to the labour market


Country Report: Access to the labour market Last updated: 30/11/20


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]

To address these challenges, in 2016, the Directorate-General for Education (DGE) issued a circular letter in the framework of the relocation programme regarding the recognition of foreign academic qualifications at primary, lower and upper secondary education levels. Its scope was later extended to all asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection.[16] While these guidelines clarify who may issue statements confirming exceptional individual circumstances and exempt asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection from translating and legalising diplomas, the other conditions remain applicable. Moreover, the guidelines are applicable only to children and young adults, given that, in accordance to the law, the competences of the DGE are limited to the primary, lower and upper secondary education levels.

There are no statistics available on the number of asylum seekers in employment at the end of 2019. The Employment and Vocational Training Institute (Instituto do Emprego e Formação Profissional,IEFP),[17] was not able to provide data on applicants and beneficiaries of international protection registered in their services for 2019.

In the context of relocation, ISS shared in 2017 provisional information concerning asylum seekers who were reaching the end of the 18-month integration programme according to which a third of those in working age who have remained in the country had secured employment since arriving in Portugal.[18] In this regard, a total of 31 out of the 146 relocated asylum seekers hosted by CPR who remained in Portugal had secured paid employment as of October 2017.

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 October 2019 the unemployment rate still stood at around 6.5% for the general working population.[19] 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 which are particularly relevant for regulated professions; lack of a social security identification number (Número de Identificação da Segurança Social, NISS) at the time of application and bureaucratic difficulties in the issuance of a NISS on the basis of the temporary residence permit; or the provisional residence permit stating not to be an identification document.[20] 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, as well as the competition in the labour market, among others. 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).

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 element, 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 in 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,[21] which is managed by ACM and funded by the European Social Fund. Português para Todos offers certified language training modules delivered by public schools and training centres of IEFP corresponding to A2 (150 hours) and B2 (150 hours) levels as well as technical Portuguese language training (25 hours) in areas such as business, hotel and tourism, beauty care, civil construction and engineering. ACM also funds informal language trainings, that are delivered by municipalities and civil society organisations, including CPR.[22]

In 2019, CPR provided certified language training at levels to asylum seekers and refugees, as well as literacy and complementary language training for children enrolled in schools. Available language training following admission to the regular procedure consisted mostly of A1-A2 Português para Todos language training that is tailored for more advanced users, who are familiar with the Latin alphabet and is therefore not necessarily tailored to asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection who may present low levels of education / illiteracy / poor knowledge of the Latin alphabet. Overall, opportunities for alphabetic training for foreigners remained very limited. Furthermore, available Português para Todos language training at B1 and B2 levels remained limited according to the experience of CPR’s Professional Insertion Cabinet (GIP), thus hindering further employment of asylum seekers and refugees.

Such programmes were available at national level in public schools and training centres following registration with and referral from IEFP employment centres or ANQEP Centres (Centros Qualifica),[23] registration with schools or with ACM. It should be noted that these require putting together groups of a minimum size, which constitutes an additional challenge in certain locations given the current dispersal policy (see Freedom of Movement). 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. In 2018, CPR also provided support to 200 refugees and asylum seekers in 17 municipalities throughout the country in the framework of an EU funded project. The implemented activities included detailed analysis of individual profiles, individual counselling, group training sessions on job-search and soft skills and engagement with employers to advocate for inclusive recruiting policies and provide post-hiring support to both refugees and employers.[24]

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 child care.[25]

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.

In this regard, 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. These include the Measure for Professional Internships (Medida Estágios Profissionais)[26] that provides for 9 month paid internships without requiring prior recognition procedures or academic diplomas; and the Measure Employment Contract (Medida Contrato Emprego)[27] that provides financial incentives to employers which recruit employees for 12 months or longer under the obligation to provide them with vocational training. IEFP did not share statistics regarding the implementation of such measures in the case of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection.

Regarding vocational training, the low level of language skills associated with the lack of diplomas and/or 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.[28] Other than Portuguese language training courses in the framework of the programme “Portuguese for All” (Português para Todos), such registration only provides access to (a) modular training[29] 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.[30] 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. In 2018, ACM and the Institute of Tourism (Instituto do Turismo) have provided certified vocational training in the framework of a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding.[31]

[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] 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:

[18] See Working Group on the European Agenda on Migration, ‘Quase 30 por cento dos refugiados inseridos no mercado de trabalho’, 26 September 2017, available in Portuguese at:

[19] Eurostat, ‘Euro area unemployment at 7.5%’, 29 November 2019, available at:

[20] Ministerial Order 597/2015.

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

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

[23] Ministerial Order 232/2016.

[24]For more information, see CPR, Começar de Novo, available in Portuguese at:

[25]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.

[26] IEFP, Estágios, available in Portuguese at:

[27] IEFP, Apoios à contratação, available in Portuguese at:

[28]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:

[29]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:

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

[31]ACM, ‘Terminou o primeiro curso em Cozinha/Restaurante para pessoas refugiadas’, 21 May 2018, 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