Thursday, October 08, 2009

On the new wave of Portuguese emigrants

Over the years I've blogged extensively about Portuguese-Canadians and Brazilian-Canadians, the various things happening with the Portuguese language in the world, and about Lusophone countries like Portugal and Angola and Brazil, because my past five years of residence in Toronto have all been spent in one Portuguese neighbourhood or another and I've become much more aware of what's going on, and what has went on, in the Lusophone world. Brazil's slow-but-steady development is one thing; the massive scale of Portuguese emigration.

Between 1886 and 1966, Portugal lost an estimated 2.6 million people to emigration, more than any West European country except Ireland. Emigration remained high until 1973 and the first oil shock that slowed the economies of West European nations and reduced employment opportunities for Portuguese workers. Since then, emigration has been moderate, ranging between 12,000 and 17,000 a year in the 1980s, a fraction of the emigration that occurred during the 1960s and early 1970s.

The main motive for emigration, at least in modern times, was economic. Portugal was long among the poorest countries in Europe. With the countryside able to support only a portion of farmers' offspring and few opportunities in the manufacturing sector, many Portuguese had to go abroad to find work. In northern Portugal, for example, many young men emigrated because the land was divided into "handkerchief-sized" plots. In some periods, Portuguese emigrated to avoid military service. Thus, emigration increased during World War I and during the 1960s and early 1970s, when Portugal waged a series of wars in an attempt to retain its African colonies.

For centuries it was mainly men who emigrated. Around the turn of the century, about 80 percent of emigrants were male. Even in the 1980s, male emigrants outnumbered female emigrants two to one. Portuguese males traditionally emigrated for several years while women and children remained behind. For several decades after World War II, however, women made up about 40 percent of emigrants.

The United States, Venezuela, France, Luxembourg, and many other countries all received very substantial numbers of immigrants. This net emigration came to an end in the mid-1980s, when Portugal began to receive immigrants on a significant scale, but the onset of a harsh recession in the first years of this decade has caused emigration to shoot up again.

What's going on now? Noel Maurer, occasional commenter and blogger, reports that the biggest destination for Portuguese emigrants of late is Angola, where an oil-driven economic boom has created any number of opportunities for ambitious Portuguese. Go, read his analysis.

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