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Stay or go? Debt-stricken Portuguese look to former colonies

"Maybe I’ll move to Angola," he says of Lisbon’s former colony in southern Africa.

His unemployed 26-year-old daughter Rita, like many young graduates, has opted for Brazil, another former colony where she feels certain to find a job.

"I support her totally," he said. "There won’t be much investment nor big public projects here in the coming years.
"But I already know Angola", said Costa, who has business links and travels there regularly.

The Costas typify the turned tables of migration in Portugal and elsewhere, the reverse of decades past when people from developing countries flocked to colonial powers for opportunity.

Today, the outlook in Portugal is gloomy and discontent rife as the country hangs on thanks to bail-out loans and a string of punishing austerity measures ordered by its international creditors.

In 2012, its economy is expected to shrink by 2.8 percent and unemployment hit a record 13.4 percent — above the current EU average of 10 percent.

"In Portugal, the coming years will be very difficult. I can’t even find a job with a salary that would allow me to get by on my own," said Rita, an architect who can’t afford her own place and still lives with her parents.
Like many, she decided to bail out.

"I have plenty of friends in the same situation who have already left or are planning to do so. Some friends are even asking me to bring their CVs to hand out when I get to Brazil," she said.

Official figures vary but the trend is clear. The National Statistics Institute said 30,000 Portuguese left the country in 2010.

But Rui Pena, an official at the government’s Emigration Observatory, said the real figure is probably more than 70,000, out of an active population of just over five million people.

If so, it’s a big jump over 2009 when the Observatory’s last firm figures show more than 40,000 emigrated, 23,700 to Angola and about 16,900 to Brazil.

Such movement is unseen since the 1960s and 70s when the country was still Europe’s poor cousin and Portuguese poured into then richer France, Belgium and Luxembourg for jobs.

But two years of economic turmoil in the eurozone — which has also embroiled Greece and Ireland and threatens the bloc’s third and fourth economies, Italy and Spain — has shifted job focus elsewhere.

Economic promise and cultural ties

For the Portuguese, not only do the former colonies, notably Brazil and Angola, have linguistic and cultural affinities but their economies hold promise.

Angola’s economy is expected to grow by 12 percent next year, as the country’s oil boom finances an ambitious reconstruction after decades of war ended in 2002.

"These countries today offer opportunities you can no longer find in Portugal: better working conditions, far higher salaries," sometimes three or four times greater, said Herminio Santos, who wrote a guide for countrymen who want to move to Angola.

"In Angola, there are numerous sectors now recruiting, from the hotel industry to finance to information technology and management.

"Portuguese savoir-faire is much appreciated there," said Santos.

The bars of Luanda’s two bayside sailing clubs are often filled with immigration stories of Portuguese expatriates who park their shiny SUVs and sit in the cool breeze to drink Portuguese beer and wine.

Portuguese property dealer Fernando da Ponte is among the 100,000 Portuguese who now live in Angola, according to the Observatory. He moved in 2008 with his wife and two children to set up the real estate franchise of Century 21.

The 49-year-old said he’d always been interested in Angola because his wife, Teresa, had been born there, but he said his main motivation was for the business opportunity.

"Real estate had collapsed in the Algarve and then this opportunity came up so I took it," he explained. "It’s not easy and I’m not making a lot of money, but I am not losing money that is the important thing."

"It’s not easy to live here," he said of a city where water and electricity are luxuries.

"We would all prefer to be living in Portugal just because it’s a nicer place to live than here, but we have to work and right now this is the place to work and make money."

The Portuguese moving to Angola now, Da Ponte said, tended to be younger professional couples, or people coming out of university and who can’t find well-paid jobs at home in Portugal.

"We are definitely seeing a different type of migrant now," he said. "There are more people from the service industries and the professional classes, while before it was mostly people in construction or individual entrepreneurs.

Even more Portuguese, about 213,000 according to Observatory, have settled in Brazil, lured by the booming economy and hoping to benefit from the 2014 football World Cup and summer Olympics two years later.

Until recently, obtaining a work visa for Angola was almost impossible without a corporate contract, and even tourist visas were a challenge. But Angola this month agreed to issue work permits to Portuguese within 30 days, and to grant them for three years instead of the current one. It also increased short-term visas for Portuguese to 90 days, instead of the current 30, and will issue them within eight days.

For Brazil, where Rita Costa plans to head, Portuguese don’t need tourist visas and can sort out work permits once they’re there. She hopes to find a job connected to the construction projects for the big sports events.
"For the work permit, I’ll figure it out after I get to Brazil," she said.


AFP/ Levi Fernandes/ Expatica