A Fulbright Specialist’s Experience in Portugal

“Through the Fulbright Specialist program, countries from any part of the world may request that a “specialist” in from any discipline from a Fulbright Specialist database provide consultative services for a short period of time. In 2017, I applied to be a Fulbright Specialist with a focus on migration and was fortunate to be added to the Fulbright Specialist database, but had no idea if or where I may be invited. In this instance, Dr. Catarina Oliveira, Director of the Observatory for Migration of the Portuguese Government’s High Commission for Migration [The Alto Comissiariado para as Migrações, IP (ACM)], applied to Fulbright Specialist Program for the participation of someone in the area of refugee studies. She was sent a short list of “specialists” in the database, and she made a selection. It is through this program that I was invited to Lisbon, beginning my commitment on May 21, 2018 and completing it on June 21, 2018.

The purpose of this invitation to ACM was to provide an external perspective on the efficacy of existing governmental programs and to identify “best practices” for the effective resettlement of refugees. During month I was in Portugal, I met with the High Commissioner for Migration and the Director of the Observatory for Migration, spoke with several staff at the Special Unit for the Support of Refugees, and had a number of one-on-one presentations about a range of migrant integration services offered through ACM. Through Fulbright in Portugal’s connections, Governmental officials of the Directorate-General of Education and the Institute of Social Security also provided additional governmental and societal perspectives on the integration of migrants in general and refugees in particular. In the first two weeks of my stay in Portugal, I visited a variety of refugee relocation programs in Lisbon, Braga, and S. Joao da Madeira, attended the RefuJobs launch in June, and participated in a training program designed to help staff of ACM and refugees lower their stress. These activities, as well as interactions with a few refugees, some voluntary migrants and migrant entrepreneurs, and a number of native-born individuals, and explorations of the extant literature, helped me develop an understanding of migration in the Portuguese context.

Some outcomes of my presence in Portugal were (1) a Keynote presentation for ACM, representing Fulbright, on World Refugee Day (June 20, 2018), (2) two all-day training programs with ACM staff, (3) an article in the Thematic Newsletter of the Observatory for Migration on Refugees (https://www.om.acm.gov.pt/-/581913), (4) an interview published in Portugal’s daily newspaper, Diário de Notícia, on June 21, 2018, and (5) a 30-page final report to ACM summarizing my observations, assessments, and recommendations.

With an aging population and a declining birthrate, Portugal’s attitude of welcome toward refugees in particular and immigrants in general, is a significant benefit. Existing immigrant integration programs are well conceptualized, developed, and appropriately modified based on immigrant feedback. Service providers are passionate and dedicated, and the slow entry of refugees allows room for Portugal to forestall potential stumbling blocks.

On a personal note, experience as a Fulbright Specialist was both educational and rewarding. It was an honor to engage with professionals who, across the board, were warm and welcoming, knowledgeable, sharing, open, enthusiastic, passionate, and caring. My insights were appreciated, but when there was a disagreement, there was an open discussion, which was particularly satisfying. I valued the trust the Observatory for Migration and ACM as well as Fulbright placed in me as they gave me opportunity to share my observations and opinions publically.

I am grateful to the Fulbright Specialist Program and to ACM for allowing me to participate in this project, and I am encouraged by Portugal’s warm and welcoming attitude toward migrants, particularly in this period of xenophobia and discrimination.”


Dr. Uma Segal is Professor of Social Work & Research Fellow in International Studies and Programs at the University of Missouri – St. Louis and was the Fulbright Specialist at Alto Comissariado para as Migrações / Observatório da Migrações, 2017/2018