Graduates scouring the recruitment pages amid Portugal’s worst recession in memory are increasingly opting for the chance of a better life in the former colonies of Angola and Brazil.
Portugal flourished as a global power with explorers like Vasco da Gama and Pedro Alvares Cabral building an empire that lasted for 600 years. Now, a new wave of adventurers is once again seeking work, and fortune, elsewhere.
“Portugal’s crisis is just getting worse, so I came to try my luck in Brazil,” said Fernando Silva, 49, whose snack bar in an Amazon town has enjoyed success selling bolinho de bacalhau cod cakes. “Here, things are much better.”
Portugal was forced to take a €78-billion ($100-billion) bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund last year owing to its debt crisis, sparking its deepest recession since the transition to democracy in the 1970s – the last time there was a major wave of emigration, to other parts of Europe.
In recent years, Portugal has been a magnet for immigrants from its former colonies and other African nations but as Lisbon struggles to navigate the turbulent straits of the euro zone crisis, that trend has been reversed.
Emigrating is fast becoming a preferred option for many seeking a decent living as their bailed-out economy suffers under debt, low growth and poor competitiveness. Portugal’s booming ex-colonies in Africa and Brazil are a natural choice.
Portugal’s unemployment is at a record 14 per cent. For the young, joblessness is much worse, at 35 per cent, and there is little hope for a sharp, job-generating recovery any time soon.
Mr. Silva is one of those who quit Portugal’s crisis and set off 14 months ago to Brazil, armed with his fish-cake recipe.
Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, mindful of the burden of rising unemployment benefits on efforts to cut spending and meet strict budget goals under the bailout, has encouraged the trend.
Mr. Passos Coelho said unemployed teachers should consider “alternatives in the whole Portuguese-speaking market.”
“In Angola, and not just there, in Brazil as well, there is a great need for a trained work force for primary and secondary education,” he said, provoking criticism from the opposition.
Joao Bentes, 26, an unemployed architect who just graduated, said he may have to turn his back on Portugal’s shores.
“I went to the job centre and they told me that, given my qualifications as an architect, it would be very difficult to find anything in Portugal and that the best thing to do is to look abroad,” he said.
Dina Paulista, 42, moved to Sao Paulo in Brazil last month after a fruitless four-year search for a job as a photographic director. “I prefer not to have to do it out of necessity, but this government leaves us no option than to leave the country.”
As their need for skilled professionals rises, Angola and Brazil are drawing more and more young, educated Portuguese.
Brazil once experienced military dictatorship and years of boom-or-bust economy but in the past decade emerged as an economic powerhouse; it’s one of the “BRIC” nations, along with China, India and Russia, and recently passed a landmark, overtaking Britain in the rankings of the world’s largest economies.
Thousands of Portuguese settlers fled Angola as it descended into civil war following the collapse of colonial rule, and thousands more Angolans followed during the years of violence. Peace and prosperity in Angola has reversed the trend.
Luanda, the capital of crude oil producer Angola, has become the world’s most expensive city for foreigners owing to an oil boom that has a created a huge appetite for qualified workers.
Helena Rato, a researcher at Portugal’s National Administration Institute who studies emigration, said: “Teachers who were left without contracts here are going to Angola and Mozambique in their droves.”
This has spawned a new breed of skilled emigrant workers like nurses, engineers and architects.
“All available data show growing emigration from Portugal, especially trained specialists, which is different from what it used to be when poor and untrained people were mostly leaving,” Ms. Rato said.
Portugal’s latest emigration data from the National Statistics Institute showed that the number of emigrants rose sharply by 40 per cent in 2010 – the year Portugal’s debt crisis started in earnest – to 23,760 people to all destinations.
No detailed breakdowns were available.
The Brazilian embassy in Lisbon said the number of Portuguese with work permits in Brazil alone jumped by 52,000 between 2010 and mid-2011, to 328,860 people.
According to Portuguese media, the number of Portuguese in Angola more than quadrupled in the past few years to more than 100,000, four times the number of Angolans living in Portugal. No official data was available for Portuguese living in Angola.
Moving to former colonies is made easier by rich cultural links and good relations between Portuguese-speaking countries.
Portugal won, then squandered fabulous fortunes with its overseas empire, virtually inventing globalization in the Age of Discovery with its sailors and merchants setting up trading enterprises from Brazil to Africa and on to Asia, and leaving their indelible mark in far-flung spots.
The independence of its wealthiest colony of Brazil in 1822 damaged Portugal’s wealth and status.
There have been periodic waves of immigration since then. Celina Nunes, 59, emigrated 36 years ago because her uncle was already living there. There was an especially big wave in the 1950s when Brazil started a program for immigration to build up its industry.
“The advice I would give to those moving now is that they are ready to work,” said Ms. Nunes, a seamstress. “They can come, but they need to be willing to work hard.”
Relative ease in obtaining visas and previously settled family members make the move more manageable. Portugal’s African territories, including Angola and Mozambique, won their independence in the mid-1970s after the dictatorship of Antonio Salazar was toppled by a left-wing military coup.
Thousands of Portuguese also know Brazil well from the holidays they used to spend there.
“I joke that Brazilians see Portugal as their grandfathers’ home,” said Andre Ribeiro de Faria, 35, who moved to Sao Paulo in 2010 and works in advertising.
“I think the Portuguese see Brazil as the home of their successful sister or cousin who can help them forge ahead. For many Portuguese, Brazil is like Portugal with massive horizons.”
Fernando Costa, 33, who is finishing a second degree, is also considering moving to Brazil, not least because his wife is Brazilian and cannot find a job in Portugal.
“We’re creating a plan B; she has family there, we’ll try our luck,” Mr. Costa said, adding: “Things are very difficult here. Portugal is going backwards.”
Portuguese companies are reinforcing the trend as they increasingly rely on their overseas units in Africa and Brazil to deliver growth as their domestic businesses suffer during the recession. To do that, they employ Portuguese professionals.
SPRINGBOARD TO AFRICA
Multinationals in Portugal are also using the country as a natural base from where to launch operations and break into fast-growing African markets.
Job advertisements this week included openings by multinational consultancy firm KPMG for auditors in Angola, while competitor PricewaterhouseCoopers is hiring assistants for its office in the Portuguese-speaking island of Cape Verde.
Another advertisement by Portuguese financial advisory firm Certho read: “Due to strong growth, the company seeks a director-general for its Angola office.”
Pedro Luz, 34, who recently graduated with a second degree in business management, is a typical young professional who has been drawn to Angola by opportunity and better pay. Sent out from Lisbon, he is working as a business consultant on a project that will last four months but expects to stay longer.
“As expatriates here, we have a lifestyle we simply don’t get at home,” he said. “If we didn’t have this crisis in Europe, Angola wouldn’t be my first choice.”
It is easier for emigrants who have jobs awaiting them but the desperate situation at home prompts many to leave without guaranteed work.
Paulista, the trained photographic director, says she would settle for a teaching job. “Going back to cinematography would be ideal, but I don’t have too many hopes about that,” she said.
And, back at home, the daunting challenge of pulling the country out of its debt crisis could be exacerbated as skilled workers leave.
“It’s sad, because it’s exactly the people who go that you don’t want to see go,” said Prof. David Patient, who teaches management at Catolica University in Lisbon.