An amendment to the Asylum Act enacted in 2022, determines that asylum seekers are entitled to the right to work from the moment of the application for international protection. Furthermore, asylum seekers are entitled to benefit from support measures and programmes in the area of employment and vocational training under specific conditions to be determined by the competent Ministries.
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 declarations of asylum applications and provisional residence permits by SEF, which clearly state the right to employment, are free of charge. 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.
Asylum seekers benefit from the same conditions of employment as nationals, including regarding salaries and working hours. 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).
With the exception of the submission of beneficiaries of international protection to the same conditions applicable to Portuguese nationals, 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 (see Access to Education).
There are no statistics available on the number of asylum seekers in employment at the end of 2022. The Employment and Vocational Training Institute (Instituto do Emprego e Formação Profissional, IEFP), did not provide data on applicants and beneficiaries of international protection registered in their services for 2022.
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, 34.3% were working, mostly in civil construction. Only 65.2% of those questioned deemed the salaries as fair compensation for the work performed. The analysis conducted concluded that the participants are mostly engaged in unspecialised and likely precarious jobs.
In 2022, within the context of CPR’s integration-related support, asylum seekers were able to find jobs in areas such as cleaning, costumer services, civil construction, and agriculture. With the exception of specific functions (such as electrician jobs), low salaries were generally observed.
In CPR’s experience, asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection face many challenges in securing employment, such as:
- Poor language skills and communication difficulties;
- Professional skills that are misaligned with the needs of employers;
- Difficulties in obtaining recognition of diplomas (particularly relevant for regulated professions);
- Lack of or difficulties in obtaining a social security identification number (Número de Identificação da Segurança Social, NISS) or fiscal identification (Número de Indentificação Fiscal, NIF);
- Difficulties in opening bank accounts, in particular due to the requirement to present documents such as a residence permit;
- Reluctance by employers to hire asylum seekers (namely due to lack of knowledge regarding their legal status);
- 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
While the Fiscal authority drafted clear guidance regarding the sufficiency of the declaration of the asylum application for the issuance of fiscal numbers, throughout the year CPR continued to observe practical obstacles, such as difficulties in accessing the relevant services, and discrepancies in the treatment of asylum seekers. Similar issues have been observed regarding registration with the Social Security, despite efforts from the authorities to simplify and digitalise processes.
Within the context of a specific project aiming to support the integration of unaccompanied children over 15 years old in the job market, internships and training opportunities, CPR observed additional challenges in the integration of asylum seekers in specific sectors such as sports, particularly by not being able to compete due to the lack of documentation.  The project also highlighted the impacts of the challenges mentioned above in this specific group.
CPR’s Integration department continued to observe persistent challenges with regard to access to recognition/validation/certification of professional and academic competencies of asylum seekers and refugees. Notably:
- Lack of original diplomas and certificates (for instance, IEFP does not accept personal statements regarding qualifications, simply registering these persons as literate job applicants);
- Difficulties in obtaining certified translations of existing documents;
- Long administrative procedures for recognition/validation/certification, and lack of regular communication flows;
- Lack of knowledge of Portuguese language.
Upon admission to the regular procedure, asylum seekers can register as ‘job applicants’ with 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 of international protection, asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection are included among the target population of some of IEFP’s 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) include refugees in its priority groups. 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%.
According to CPR’s experience, the main challenge faced by applicants/beneficiaries of international protection within this context is that the amount paid to interns by the programme depends on their level of qualifications. As many applicants/beneficiaries of international protection cannot prove their qualifications, most of them are only eligible to the lowest tier of grant (in 2022, € 443.20). Furthermore, sometimes, asylum seekers are not allowed to register to these programmes, on the grounds of not yet being beneficiaries of international protection.
CPR’s Integration Department offers individual assistance that covers job search techniques, recognition procedures, search and referrals to vocational training and volunteering opportunities. Other NGOs, such as JRS, also provide employment assistance to asylum seekers and develop projects in this field.
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.
The National Plan to Combat Racism and Discrimination 2021-2025 provides for the implementation of training courses with internships in the area of tourism to promote the integration of refugees and migrants in the labour market.
Portuguese Language training
The legal framework for public Portuguese language was amended in 2022, expanding access to persons over 16 years old (previously, it only covered persons over 18), and to applicants for temporary protection. Access by asylum seekers was already provided for.
According to available information asylum seekers are able to register with IEFP to access to Portuguese language training.
Among the challenges traditionally encountered in this area are the lack of training tailored to persons with low levels of education/illiteracy/poor knowledge of the Latin alphabet, the 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.
In 2022, CPR observed an improvement in the access of asylum seekers to ‘Portuguese as a host language’ courses, the public Portuguese language training scheme, with an increase of the number of entities that may organise relevant courses.
ACM also funds informal language trainings, that are delivered by municipalities and civil society organisation.
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.
In 2022, CPR provided 1,385 hours of training to 347 applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection.
A partnership between CPR and the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences of NOVA University continued to enable the referral of applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection to Portuguese language classes throughout the year.
ACM an Online Platform for Portuguese to promote informal learning of Portuguese.
Regarding vocational training, the low level of language skills associated with the lack of diplomas and/or potentially challenging recognition procedures, 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 that are unable to present the relevant diplomas/certificates or whose documents and academic qualifications have not been recognised in the Portuguese educational system can be registered by IEFP as ‘literate users’ in the SIGO platform. Other than Portuguese language training courses, such registration only provides access to: (a) modular training 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. Neither modular training nor training in basic skills entail an academic certification.µ
 Articles 54(1), as amended by Act n.18/2022, of 25 August. Before this change, asylum seekers were entitled to access the labour market and to benefit from support measures and programmes in the area of employment and vocational training following admission to the regular procedure and issuance of a provisional residence permit.
 Article 55 Asylum Act.
 Ministerial Order 597/2015.
 Article 84 Asylum Act.
 Article 15(2) Constitution and Article 17(1)(a) and (2) Act 35/2014.
 Article 4 Labour Code.
 Article 5 Labour Code.
 Article 70(3) Asylum Act.
 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: https://bit.ly/3LFhSeq.
 Sandra Roberto, Carla Moleiro, ed. Observatório das Migrações, De menor a maior: acolhimento e autonomia de vida em menores não acompanhados, April 2021, p.46, available at: https://bit.ly/3fqMKBK.
 Ibid, p.64.
 With some branches requiring a passport for registration, for instance.
 For more information see https://bit.ly/37eCZWD.
 Additional information is available at: https://bit.ly/3uFUhlC.
 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.
 See https://bit.ly/3KDntSG and https://bit.ly/3jCG2KN.
 National Plan to Combat Racism and Discrimination 2021-2025, available at: https://bit.ly/42GKTPA, 74-75.
 Ministerial Order no.183/2020, of 5 August 2020, amended by Ministerial Order no.184/2022, of 16 February 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3UeqD52.
 According to the information available to CPR’s Integration Department, in 2022, enrolment in IEFP to access Portuguese language training was possible to all asylum seekers, regardless of their document and of the existence of NISS and NIF.
 Available at: https://bit.ly/39Z9WF0. A guide by IEFP on the organisation of trainings under the new framework is available at: https://bit.ly/2Qd2Jdc.
 For more information on these programmes see ACM, Learning of the Portuguese Language, available at: http://bit.ly/2iqmXQg.
 Literacy courses were not held in 2022.
 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: https://bit.ly/2uok84C.
 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: https://goo.gl/aCPTXi.
 IEFP, Cursos de Educação e Formação para Adultos (Cursos EFA), available in Portuguese at: https://bit.ly/2HCey7a.