LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal’s government on Tuesday eased some requirements in its program that aims to draw home at least 1,500 Portuguese emigrants, after only 71 people took up the offer in the first two months since its launch in July.
Changes include easing the deadline by which returnees must apply for the program but do not change financial incentives on offer, which many emigrants say are not enough to attract them back to the nation of 10.3 million people.
Convincing Portuguese living abroad to come home has been one of the Socialist government’s priorities since it came to power at the end of 2015, after nearly 600,000 people emigrated during years of austerity between 2011 and 2015.
But since the Socialists took charge, 260,000 more have left, draining the nation, which was hit hard during the global financial crisis, of many of its most educated people.
The “Programa Regressar”, or Return Program, offers returnees 2,614 euros ($2,878) in cash, a 50% income tax reduction for five years and up to 3,886 euros to help cover relocation costs, depending on the number of a returnees dependents coming home with them.
The program is offered to returnees who secure a permanent work contract between Jan. 1, 2019 to Dec. 31, 2020.
Returnees initially had to apply within 60 to 90 days of starting work and provide documents to prove their emigration status. Under new rules, the government said they could apply at any time and it also eased up on documentation requirements.
Candidates, who must have left Portugal before the end of December 2015 to be eligible, are expected to secure a permanent work contract before receiving the funds.
“People go abroad specifically because they’re going to earn more,” Bernardo Larisch, a 25-year-old musician living in London, told Reuters. “Come back to Portugal, to earn less, on a small financial incentive? I can’t see anyone taking that up.”
Rodrigo Oliveira, 35, a supply chain planner who left Portugal in 2009 and now works in Switzerland, said: “I earn ten times the salary I would in Lisbon over here. Honestly, me and my Portuguese friends abroad, we laugh at programs like this.”
The program is part of efforts to address a demographic imbalance in Portugal, which has a fast-ageing population.
The OECD grouping of industrialized nations said the fall in the working-age population would be “among the steepest among OECD countries”, placing immense pressure on the pension system and labor market.
Despite Portugal’s reputation as an economic success story since the financial crisis, many young, educated workers are still more attracted by significantly higher wages in European countries such as Germany, Britain or Switzerland.
Reporting by Victoria Waldersee; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Edmund Blair