Portugal: immigration and the Covid-19 pandemic

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Patricia Valadas Coriel
Valadas Coriel & Associados, Lisbon


  • Will the future of immigration be influenced by the current pandemic?
  • How are countries dealing with and containing the spread?
  • What measures have been implemented in Portugal over the last few weeks?
  • Which were the proposed changes to the Portuguese immigration rules for 2021 and would they be put in force or not?


Thanks to Covid-19, the world is facing a challenge few were able to predict. Millions of people are experiencing major disturbances to their livelihoods, activities and stability.

The type of government, politics, ideologies and principles will more than ever influence the choices to be made when deciding in which country to settle. In the future, countries which have public and universal efficient healthcare systems, where measures to support employers, employees, companies and families are available, that acted faster than others to face and contain the spread of Covid-19, will rank higher in the decision of where to live and where to obtain a second passport. Today, having multiple passports could literally mean the difference between life and death. Unfortunately, and inevitably, it is worse to live in certain countries in times of crisis.

As I am a Portuguese immigration lawyer who is more familiar with Portuguese reality than others, I will highlight the major immigration policy decisions that were taken in Portuguese territory over these last few weeks.

On 2 March 2020 Portugal reported its first two cases of Covid-19. Immediately the whole community became aware, vigilant and concerned about the predictable damage to the health system and the nation’s economy as problems started to emerge in several other European Union countries.

Having Italy and Spain as examples of the colossal havoc which could occur due to a slow reaction to the pandemic, and having the Portuguese media’s ‘hysteria’ and ‘obsession’ with the spread of the virus, the Portuguese community soon started voluntary self-isolation, before staying at home was made mandatory. Renowned hotels, Michelin star restaurants, shops, hairdressers and gyms etc had chosen to close even before Portugal’s President declared the State of Emergency.

Portugal’s Immigration Office has cancelled all appointments until 1 July 2020, restricting face-to-face visits to those considered urgent.

Nevertheless, Portugal has been the first European country to standardise all cases of immigrants with pending requests. They have been granted the same rights as citizens, namely, the right to live and work in Portugal, the right to national healthcare and the right to ask for social security protection.

This historic decision was linked to a shrewd ploy for containing the spread of infections, allowing anyone who needs medical assistance to receive it, as well as social protection in the event of unemployment, provided the applicant’s criteria applicable to request these protections is fulfilled.

It is difficult to predict the future of immigration. However it is my belief those choosing to ask for a second passport or a residency permit will in future focus more heavily on the quality of life, decent and efficient healthcare, stable economies and governments, rather than having a visa-free entry, which is useless in times of such crises.

Changes to the Portuguese immigration legislation for 2021

The Portuguese Parliament recently approved its 2020 budget, which included an authorisation for the government to amend current investment requirements of Residency Authorisation for Investment Activity, better known as the Portuguese Golden Visa programme.

The reason given for this change is to remove pressure from the metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Oporto and to drive foreigner investment inland and to the autonomous regions of Madeira and the Azores.

To avoid jeopardising investments that were or are being negotiated in 2020, the Deputy Secretary of State to the Prime Minister stated that the new changes to the Golden Visa requirements will only come into force in 2021.

It is still unclear what the new law will provide. What we currently know is the following:

  • real estate investments in Lisbon and Oporto will not be eligible to request Portuguese residency;
  • the global amount of the real estate investment will increase in its two categories, namely in the regular real estate route and in the rehabilitation route; and
  • remaining investment options such as job creation, investment in funds, bank account deposits, incorporation of a company, investment in research activities, and investment in real estate in the interior of Portugal etc will stay in force.

The above-mentioned decisions were taken before the outbreak of Covid-19, and without predicting the arrival of an economic crisis that will affect several sectors and industries. Returning to ‘normality’ will imply the execution of extraordinary economic and financial recovery measures, among which foreign investment will be crucial for the recovery of Portugal’s economy. As such, the changes to the Portuguese Golden Visa may have to be postponed to a date yet to be established.

Portugal’s Golden Visa programme remains one of the most popular citizenship by investment schemes in the world for its affordable investment prices, benefits granted to card holders (reduced tax rates for instance), free national healthcare, social security, good education, access to the Schengen Area and 186 visa-free countries. Golden Visa card-holders will continue to be entitled to apply for permanent residence and citizenship at year five.


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