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Imigrantes Idosos: uma nova face da imigração em Portugal

Machado, Fernando Luís and Cristina Roldão (2010), Imigrantes Idosos: uma nova face da imigração em Portugal, Lisbon, Alto Comissariado para a Imigração e o Diálogo Intercultural.

Elderly immigrants in Portugal represent 35 thousand people, a not very significant number in the whole elderly population, but that will tend to grow in the for coming years. Elderly African immigrants, whom this study devotes particular attention, represent an important part of this number and they are in a situation of higher social vulnerability and poverty risk; the authors predict that this situation will continue in the future.        

The book Imigrantes Idosos: uma nova face da imigração em Portugal [Elderly immigrants: A New Face of Immigration in Portugal], promoted by the Observatory of Immigration, focuses on a phenomenon not often studied in the immigration studies: the elderly immigrants. The research is based in a quantitative (using official statistical sources) and qualitative (based in twenty three interviews to elderly African immigrants) analysis.

The authors begin with a review of national and international literature about aging and elderly people in contemporary societies in general, and about migrations and elderly immigrants particularly. Then they define “Social profiles of elderly immigrants in Portugal” (p. 35). Based on an analysis of 2001 Census, the immigrants are categorized in five large groups: EU15 (39.2%), Portuguese-speaking African countries (34%), India (7.2%), Brazil (4.5%) and other countries (15.1%). Trying to characterize elderly immigrants in Portugal and compare them to elderly people in general, identify different segments of elderly immigrants and show the gender inequalities among elderly immigrants, authors present sociodemographic and socioprofessional data about these groups: deaths, average death age, sex, age groups, civil status, school attainment, main livelihood, employment status, occupational category, etc.

The main conclusion of this quantitative analysis is that there exist different kinds of elderly immigrants in Portugal. A first type, hybrid, is mainly composed by retired people and active people with privileged professional positions. They arrive from other EU countries, especially from the richest Northern countries, with good economic resources. The second type of elderly immigrants refers to people from Portuguese-speaking African countries that arrived to Portugal in the sixties and the seventies of the last century and that get old here.  They are in a situation of social disadvantage and vulnerability to poverty, since they didn’t significantly change their social condition, marked by disqualified and underpaid professional positions. Part of them depends of family support and others are still in the labor market beyond the expected age, revealing the insufficiency of reforms to subsist. Within this second type there are two small distinguished groups: women that arrived more recently, with an advanced age, to reunite with their family and look for health care they don’t have in their country of origin; and individuals and families with more scholar and professional resources, with average income levels, holders of Portuguese nationality, arrived mainly from Angola, Cape Verde and Mozambique following the decolonization process, in the middle seventies. The third type of elderly immigrants identified by the authors is the one of Indian immigrants, where is possible to distinguish, on the one hand, entrepreneurs and managers of small and medium companies and, on the other hand, scientific and technical professionals where those from Goa (that arrived in the decolonization context) stand out. The fourth and last type presented is a heterogeneous group of Brazilian, which includes three distinct profiles: (a) Professional immigrants, with middle and high levels of schooling, that arrived to Portugal between the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties to work in qualified professions; (b) Labor immigrants, with lower schooling levels, that arrived in the second wave of Brazilian immigration, in the end of the nineties, and that have underpaid jobs; (c) Individuals that are in Portugal for a long time, since the sixties or the seventies; some were political refugees from the military dictatorship.

Regarding elderly African immigrants, the second type identified above, most of them are from Cape Verde. They represent a very small portion of the total elderly population, but they have a great potential to growth: in twenty years, the tens of thousands African immigrants that arrived between the end of the eighties and the middle nineties and that are not yet elderly, will then be.

On the qualitative analysis part, the authors focus on elderly immigrants from Portuguese-speaking African countries, distinguishing them by country of origin. Using the analysis of 23 interviews to elderly African, done in several municipalities of Lisbon Metropolitan Area and Setubal Peninsula, the authors outlined sociological portraits in which the social situation of each elderly is considered, in multiple levels, and they reconstructed their past, regarding professional life, familiar events and migratory trajectory.

The interview analysis and use of theoretical and empirical literature allowed them to build a typology, with five elderly immigrants categories, builded around a socioeconomic axis (poverty vs. socioeconomic comfort) and an aging axis (inactive and isolated vs. active and integrated). These categories are: (1) “Old age poor and socially excluded”: usually with higher incidence in male individuals, many times with alcohol or heath problems; it’s people that lived a rupture or erosion of familiar ties; (2) “Old age poor familiarly supported”: these old people, although they have low incomes, depend on State support, have health problems and restricted sociability, they differentiated from those from the previous category because they have a stable family environment; they have the support of their children, sons in law or grandchildren, that respond to their material, relational and emotional needs; (3) “Old age poor and socially integrated”: the socioeconomic conditions of the elderly people of this group aren’t qualitatively different from those from the previous groups; they are also poor, although with revenues slightly higher and they are less dependent of State benefits; the difference between this category and the previous ones is that it is family supported and socially integrated: some of this elderly people still work, others go out, socialize with neighbors, go to church or mosque, make vegetable gardening, etc; these people are less affected by illness, they are more healthy; (4) “Old age comfortable and socially active”: this category represents a qualitative leap in the social conditions of the old people; in socioeconomic terms, they correspond to minority immigrants profile: their social origins are more advantaged, they have more school qualifications, they had or still have qualified jobs; they are the ones that do more activities outside the domestic and familiar space, activities in which they apply and valorize their school, cultural and professional capitals; they don’t have major health problems; (5) “Old age comfortable and isolated”: as the individuals from the previous category, these immigrants came from more favored social classes; although they have good material and health conditions, they live socially isolated, frequently with difficulties to deal with the downward social mobility, as their economical capital changed with the decolonization process.

The authors conclude that there isn't one, but several kinds of elderly immigrants. Current elderly African immigrants are in a situation particularly vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion. Pensions don’t correspond totally to the duration of professional trajectories and to the amount of salaries received; this is so because their contributions to social security were irregular (which happens with many elderly Portuguese). Thus, if wages weren’t high, the pensions are even lower. Familiar support emerges in this context as fundamental and it is present in many cases, but not in all.

The elderly poor immigrant reflects the dynamics of exclusion of African immigrants in Portugal. Nevertheless, the coming back to the countries of origin isn’t a possibility to these immigrants: either because the social conditions they have in Portugal could not be matched if they would decide to return to their home countries, either because there are children and grandchildren in Portugal, o because after decades in this country few ties with the country of origin remained.

The authors end up making some recommendations for the public and private authorities involved in social intervention: a need for further dissemination of the available social assistance networks; promotion of further divulgation of rights and procedures regarding contributive records; preventive availability of information and juridical support regarding the implications of informal work regimes; promotion of active ageing; promotion of policies for family reunification for the immigrants that are alone and that don’t manage to reunite their families in Portugal.  

Margarida Carvalho

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