Improving the employment integration of migrant workers

The mobility of migrant workers in companies can be related to career progression, but it is also influenced by high rates of staff turnover. Research into the occupational mobility of migrant workers reveals that a mismatch persists between the jobs obtained by these workers in the Portuguese labour market and the workers’ qualifications. This suggests that policy intervention is required in some areas in order to improve the integration of migrant workers in Portuguese labour market.

According to a study carried out by the General Directorate of Studies, Statistics and Planning (Direcção-Geral de Estudos, Estatística e Planeamento, DGEEP) (PT0608019I), the occupational mobility of migrant workers in companies takes two forms: vertical mobility (i.e. within companies), occurring due to career progression, and horizontal mobility (i.e. between companies), related to a context of high staff turnover. Vertical mobility usually involves leaving the current occupation to integrate into one of higher status, which is the case in 25% of the companies surveyed as part of the study. Horizontal mobility of migrant workers implies performing the same job tasks with the same occupational status in a different company. In the companies surveyed, staff turnover rates range between 3% and 300%; in most cases, the average turnover varies from 35% to 65% a year.

Imbalance between job tasks and qualifications

The survey of migrant workers confirms that the job held by these workers in their country of origin corresponds to a higher qualification level than the first job they are able to obtain in Portugal. Thus, many foreign workers accept a job requiring lower qualifications than they actually have in order to find employment in Portugal. Subsequently, they work their way back up to an occupation corresponding to their own level of qualification. However, despite the slow adjustment towards reaching the level of education and qualifications obtained in the home country, a mismatch persists between the jobs obtained and the migrant workers’ qualifications. This indicates that the upward movement of workers to find more suitable employment to match their skills is still incomplete and in progress.

Policy intervention measures

These findings point to certain political and technical intervention areas which would allow migrant workers to experience an easier and better economic and social integration in Portugal. These areas could include the following initiatives:

  • integrated and coordinated political measures – simplifying measures and improving communication between the organisations responsible for the migrant population can help to facilitate and clarify the entry, residence and family regrouping processes;
  • policy measures against informal work – as a proportion of migrant workers are not gaining proper access to social security benefits due to situations of undeclared work, it is important to develop measures in order to formalise all situations and prevent an increase in illegal work;
  • qualification recognition measures – greater awareness and acceptance of the educational certification and qualifications obtained by migrant workers in their home countries will contribute to greater transparency in the labour market. This will facilitate a better adjustment between labour supply and demand, particularly regarding those with higher qualifications and specialised occupations;
  • acquired skills validation measures – the introduction of a ‘points test’ system will provide a first assessment of the knowledge and skills of the candidates wishing to enter the labour market, simplifying the recruitment procedure and contributing to greater recognition of the workers’ career progression;
  • follow-up and monitoring measures – the adjustment between the present job and the education and skills obtained in the home country should be monitored. The databases of migrant workers should be used and case studies should be carried out in the main sectors employing migrant workers;
  • training measures to promote adaptation and better integration of migrant workers – training in the Portuguese language, social and cultural issues, and the economy could be further developed;
  • information measures – such initiatives should improve the transparency of the labour market, promoting a deeper knowledge of the rights and duties of the migrant workers or of candidates who wish to migrate to Portugal. This type of information would also be helpful to those entities, companies and other organisations employing or seeking to employ foreign labour.


Carneiro, R. (coord.), A Mobilidade Ocupacional do Trabalhador Imigrante em Portugal [Occupational mobility of the immigrant worker in Portugal], Cogitum Collection, No. 20, DGEEP, Lisbon, 2006.

Heloísa Perista and Jorge Cabrita, CESIS

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