Immigrant entrepreneurship in portugal: contribution to the dynamics of local development
Belkis Oliveira & Vasco Soares
Sociologists, ASI, Universidade Portucalense, Porto
Entrepreneurial initiative is an important factor to boost the cultural, economic and social standing of a country. Even though emigration has been constant in the history of Portugal, the end of the dictatorship in 1974 and joining the EU in 1986 changed the reality of the country and turned it into an attractive destination. In this respect, in the 1980s, the expansion of the labour market and informal or family-centred networks contributed to the growth of the immigrant community from Lusophone Africa. After that came the influx from Brazil and post-1998, the arrival of a more family-based and qualified inflow from Eastern countries. The last census in 2011 reported that the number of foreign residents in Portugal had grown by nearly 70 per cent in the ten years between 2001 and 2011 and now stands at 400,000, of which the majority nationalities are Brazilian, Cape Verdean and Ukrainian.
The immigrant population has inherent characteristics associated with entrepreneurship, but at the labour market level, entrepreneurship is used as a privileged labour integration strategy enabling immigrants to maintain their original profession, combat unemployment, benefit from their skills and create jobs for family members or compatriots to re-group in the host country. Europe is facing major social issues, such as a low birth rate, the need to address new situations, or its aging population. Immigrants have an extremely important role to play in responding to those issues. Their view of the world is different, necessarily distinct, from that of the Portuguese — a difference that distinguishes those who, in most cases, have left behind their parents, their friends and their comfort zone to start a new life with courage and confidence, the courage and confidence of those that strive to improve their education, their human capital, their personal relationships, and certainly their financial prospects. In fact, their arrival here entails a whole new learning process, both for those that struggle to come to terms with a new culture and for local citizens, who suddenly find themselves in contact with new and completely unknown ways of living and attitudes towards life. Behavioural flexibility and common sense are paramount! Innumerable conflicts have broken out as a result of poor understanding of a word or expression or of a gesture that is quite common among the Portuguese but which may constitute an offence to migrants, and vice-versa. Portugal adheres to an intercultural policy the cornerstones of which are dialogue, respect and appreciation of differences. This perspective is of great importance when discussing entrepreneurship.
In this context, on the basis of the ASI (2007) experiment that formed part of a research study with a sample group of 591 individuals at national level: the PEI Project — ‘Prediction factors of Migrant Employability: Implications for Employment Policies and for Integration Support Services’, several reflections can be highlighted, one of them being the situation of immense vulnerability in which these people find themselves, mainly upon arrival–situations of insecurity at work, in healthcare, in housing — in short, people that face highly challenging situations but with incalculable willpower, which is patently clear in several utterances taken from the interviews: ‘My biggest worry is getting through today’, or ‘I know that, with hard work and effort, tomorrow will be better and everything will be worth it.’
Indeed, the research showed that these people’s social networking is of great importance to them on arrival and that in most cases, their situation improves to reach a satisfactory standard of living.
It was also found that one of the options considered by immigrant entrepreneurs is to start work as an employee of others before setting up a business quite similar to the one they left behind in their country of origin. This pattern of work is seen to be one of the most effective. The concept is similar to the experience of Korean immigrants in the United States, according to Nee and Sanders (2001), where a family base is essential to reduce the risks associated with entrepreneurism, as Korean women opted for a stable job in order to leave entrepreneurship to their husbands. In Portugal, it was found that many immigrant entrepreneurs were creating businesses in sectors in which they had not previously worked, even though the most convenient choice of profession would be to return to their previous sectors. This is not surprising taking into account the aggregate human capital and the possibility of setting up an intercultural business with its associated benefits, in view of the explanation given by Mincer (1974), which noted that professional development is based on accumulated human capital and qualifications.
Despite the economic gains to be reaped from immigrant entrepreneurship, very few measures to support employment, entrepreneurship and training are available for immigrants and their most vulnerable groups in Portugal (MALHEIROS, 2013). Among the most significant hurdles encountered for the immigrant entrepreneur are the legal and institutional barriers relating to their legal status, their difficulty to access funding, and that they are unaware of the law and the business world (COUTINHO, OLIVEIRA, SMITH AND SANCHEZ, 2008).
Therefore, it is essential to make the Portuguese aware of the advantages of immigrant entrepreneurship and the benefits of a diverse and tolerant society open to its surroundings. Furthermore, it is essential to make the immigrant population aware in terms of what entrepreneurship can do for their integration, especially as an alternative to unemployment, to combat misinformation by providing full and comprehensive information, and to create a support network that will allow immigrant entrepreneurs to receive specific support that matches their individual and collective needs as foreign citizens (MARINHA, SILVA, CARRETO, TERRIVEL, COSTA, 2015). In some experimental awareness-building courses for unemployed immigrants carried out between 2010 and 2015, ASI researchers found that immigrants often do not have any prior concept of the human and social capital they possess and of their potential for employment, whether as employees or self-employed entrepreneurs. In this regard, they tend to consider their careers in rather emotional terms, without managing to maintain the necessary objectivity required to understand the added value of their capabilities and the way in which they can contribute, a factor that differentiates them from the general population.
The underlying recommendation of this paper and of the current project is to encourage immigrant entrepreneurship in Portugal, through strong measures to educate and increase their awareness of legal and operational procedures and the types of funding, which is the key reason why so few embark on such initiatives, and to promote training in order to mobilize the innovative ideas of immigrants so as to build the conditions that bring their contribution to local development to the surface.
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