When people emigrate for work or for other reasons, the groups most likely to be left behind are children, women, and the elderly.

If, on the one hand, emigration for work is usually seen as economically benefiting the family members who are left behind, because they will benefit from the income of the family members who emigrated, by sending remittances, which at the outset would guarantee better living conditions for those who stayed behind, on the other hand this family division and the absence of an important relative in the family structure, such as a father or a mother, may translate into interrupted personal care for dependent family members, including children and the elderly, and a heavier burden of responsibility for work and household chores for the remaining family members, forcing children to take on tasks and responsibilities that are not appropriate for their age.

Because migrant parents leave their country when their children are still children, it causes these children to become adults more quickly, as they gain responsibilities earlier and experience more complex situations than other children.

Migrant parents carry an overwhelming sense of guilt for leaving their children behind, although they believe that in the long run they are contributing to a better future for their family. In recent years, research organizations specializing in children left behind are beginning to place more importance on the negative effect that living without parents can have on a child’s emotional well-being. Of the children left behind 29% of them are very closed off and do not have much self-confidence, while another 18% tend to be impulsive and develop antisocial feelings.

Regardless of gradual changes in migration patterns, mindsets and expectations, there are still millions of parents living away from children, having a negative impact on the emotional well-being of both.

It is necessary to safeguard the rights of children “left behind” as a goal to ensure that they are important subjects for policy discussions on migration work. These children are directly affected by the legal constraints that limit family movement and family reunification, and thus measures need to be taken to alleviate these situations. For example, policies for migrant workers do not offer availability to visit their families. On the other hand, constructive policies can provide more regular remittances, which are fundamental for the quality of life of the children who stayed behind and allow these same children to have a complete schooling, which will be fundamental for their qualifications and, in this way, have better opportunities in the labor market and a professional career that, in the future, will allow them not to be forced to migrate, just like their parents or, in case they choose to emigrate, not to have to leave their children behind. The right policy choices can mitigate the risks and maximize the benefits of migration for children. Since it is an issue that has many stakeholders, including parents, guardians, teachers, social workers and policy makers, it is important to protect the rights of ‘left behind’ children.

It is important to take some aspects into consideration in future decisions on this matter, such as:

  • Increasing regular channels for migrant workers to take off to their families, and allowing family visits during temporary work programs, which should be a mandatory right for a child;
  • Ensure education, health care and social protection providers;
  • Ensure that child protection systems provide adequate legal requirements to help parents transfer legal guardianship to caregivers in the home country.

Several factors impact the education of a child left behind.

  • Remittances sent by migrant parents can help children meet school costs and have better living conditions.
  • This financial support ensures that they stay in school longer.

However, we must take into account that the volume of these remittances, tends to gradually decrease if the period of time that the children stay away from their displaced parents is longer, and there are several situations in which the displaced parents tend to form new family nuclei, and the children left behind may lack this financial support or see its value substantially reduced, which, in addition to all the negative emotional burden to which they were subjected by the family breakdown caused by the migration of their parents, may also be faced with financial problems arising from the decrease in remittances from their parents.

The issue of family reunification is very important for these children left behind, as this right derives from the fundamental human right to live in a family.

Family reunification policies play an important role in maintaining the health and well-being of workers who have migrated to these countries and of their children who have been left behind.

The immigrant worker is granted citizenship rights in the host country, provided that he or she is legally residing in a territory of a Member State, holds a residence permit valid for one year or more, with a reasonable prospect of renewal, and can achieve permanent resident status with his or her spouse and minor children forming the family, as well as with other relatives in a broader family approach. This possibility is very important for the children left behind, as it allows them, by joining their parents, to have a real childhood with clear improvements in their living conditions and in their emotional and psychological condition.

In Portugal, this situation is evident in the emigrants who come to the country to work in seasonal jobs in agriculture and fishing, and there has been a large flow of these emigrants in recent years. In agriculture, these emigrants come mainly from Southeast Asia – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – and in fishing they come mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines. These immigrants arrive in our country without their families, living in very precarious housing conditions and with unstable seasonal jobs. The worsening of the public health situation due to COVID 19, has exposed to public opinion the situation of these migrants. After they settled in our country, we have witnessed, although still very slowly, several situations of family reunification of these emigrants, and lately several families of these emigrants have arrived in our country, so it is important to guarantee to these children conditions of legalization and integration in the Portuguese educational system, as well as to guarantee their access to health care and linguistic integration, so that they can have a really better life.

According to the official statistics available 109 thousand more immigrants obtained a residence permit in 2021. Portugal now has 771 thousand foreign citizens, almost double that of 2015, since the flows began to recover from the financial crisis. In the scope of family reunification, when there are family members residing in Portugal, 8,482 residence permits were given to 8,492 Brazilians, 732 Angolans and 572 Indians in 2021.

It is necessary to acquire Legislation – Aliens Regime to learn about the conditions, rights, and duties that foreigners have when they emigrate to another country.


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