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The Potential of National Immigrant Support Centres in Portugal

This case study is part of our Beyond Crisis Collection: Innovative Approaches to the Integration of Migrants.

Making a success of migration is all about integration. Portugal has a world-beating support network for migrants through its Immigrant support centres in Lisbon and Porto and an  integrated telephone and online helpdesk for those outside the major cities.    

The two Portuguese Immigrant Support Centres in Lisbon and Porto are an award winning best practice. They bring together all the central and local government departments that migrants might need to engage. They cater for migrants from all arrival channels whether they are third country nationals from outside the EU, family reunifications, refugees and asylum seekers and  EU nationals. 

Portugal was a late-comer to receiving migrants.  Until the 2000s Portugal had been a net sender of migrants but this changed with economic growth and was accelerated by construction work to build stadiums for the European championships.  The position changed again during the crisis when Portuguese started looking abroad for work often in the Lusophone countries of Brazil, Angola and Mozambique.

The national response was to set up a High Commission for Immigration and Intercultural dialogue.  This organisation develops integration policy and manages the two one stop shops and also the telephone helplines that are delivered from the Lisbon premises. 

A key innovation in the service delivery has been the use of intercultural mediators from migrant communities who work in the two main centres delivering services and advising service-users.  The centres provide a joined up service that is able to address nearly all of the problems that migrants face in accessing services, sorting out nationality issues and work permits and settling in a new country.  It avoids the service-users having to go to another office to solve a problem.  Everything can be addressed in-house.  Additional services are provided including a crèche for those that are using the service during the daytime so that they can concentrate on problem-solving without worrying about the children. 

In 2009, following transnational exchange funded by the EU under the INTI Fund, the Portuguese government agency ACIDI published an international guide for setting up a one stop shop. The guide can be found at

Read more from the Beyond Crisis: Innovative Approaches to the Migrant Integration collection here.