The coronavirus pandemic burst into our lives completely unexpectedly. In doing so, it has changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. There is not a single country that has not been affected by the epidemic. Everyone coped with the situation in different ways and adapted as best they could to the harsh realities of life, from which there is no escape. Covid-19 had a particularly strong impact on the lives of migrants from all over the world. Portugal, of course, was no exception.
Current RealitiesIn general terms, the coronavirus has affected almost every aspect of Portuguese life. Take the education system, for example. In 2020, schools and institutions of higher education were closed en masse for quarantine. This had a major impact on the admission campaign. Let’s face it, for many international students studying in Portugal has simply become impossible because of the closed borders.
Perhaps the only area that has managed to stay afloat is the Portuguese real estate market. How this happened and what the government did to keep prices from falling, let’s try to understand.
If we take Russia as an example, the demand for housing fell by 30% in 2020. This is quite a lot and, by the way, quite expected. Real estate has depreciated a lot over the past year in many, indeed almost all, countries around the world. But Portugal has been a pleasant exception.
In general, the dynamics of growth and decline in the value of Portuguese real estate can be divided into three stages.
- The first half of the year managed to avoid falling prices. As the reasons, experts cite the stable growth in recent years and, of course, the full support of the government. The price collapse was contained artificially.
- In the third quarter, the inevitable fall in prices began. At first the losses were small, but they soon increased and became serious threats to the economy.
- In the fourth quarter, the government actively entered the game and rolled out a plan that promised to save the main source of foreign investment. Simply put, changes were made to the golden visa program, and taxation on real estate purchases was revised. According to many politicians, such measures will not only hold real estate prices in Portugal, but also to ensure their significant growth.
At Risk: Portugal’s Labor Market
The Portuguese labor market, on the other hand, has been hit hard, as have labor markets elsewhere. And that’s not surprising. Many businesses have closed. Of course, after the pandemic in Spain broke out with unprecedented force and killed thousands of people, the Portuguese government “chickened out. The necessary measures were taken, and the development of the pandemic was halted for a time.
But after a seeming lull, Covid struck the country with renewed vigor. It could not but affect the country’s economy, the financial situation of most average Portuguese and, of course, migrants from Russia.
Imagine the situation when you are working abroad, far away from your family, relatives and loved ones. All you can do is work and live with the thought that you’ll be seeing each other again in the near future. But out of the blue comes the news of a pandemic, a terrible disease, the closing of borders. And worst of all, no work, because most businesses are closing indefinitely until the epidemic recedes. When that will happen is not even approximately known.
Late last year, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released its report saying that the pandemic has not just affected people’s lives around the world. It has particularly affected the lives of migrants. The latter played a very significant role during the fight against the coronavirus, especially in health care, retail and supply chains. By the way, even while borders were closed, a number of countries made exceptions for seasonal workers from abroad who were employed in harvesting crops.
Yet, it is migrants who are among the most vulnerable populations, who have felt the negative effects of the global pandemic as much as possible. And Portugal is no exception in this regard. Many of our compatriots moved from Russia to small Portuguese towns or villages. Some worked in a small store, some in a hotel or tourism industry. It was these industries that were hit hardest by the pandemic. For many businesses, especially small ones, it was not just a question of downsizing, but of shutting down completely. Many hired workers worked under short-term employment contracts, and they were the first candidates for layoffs. But it wasn’t just seasonal workers who were hit by Covid-19. Today we will tell you a few stories about those who were legally living in Portugal during the pandemic. Unfortunately, not everyone was destined to stay in this country, despite far-reaching plans and very prosperous developments at the beginning of the move to this amazing, beautiful in every way, open and friendly country. Unfortunately, not always things work out the way we dream. Sometimes life itself makes adjustments in the plans. And the stories of our heroes are a confirmation of that.
Svetlana, cafe owner: “I just watched my business die”Svetlana Azimova has been living in Portugal for more than five years, has managed to obtain citizenship, opened a profitable business and was even planning to expand. But the pandemic made a difference.
“I got into the restaurant business by chance, just like I ended up in Portugal,” says our interviewee, beginning her story. – After graduating from university I worked for a long time as a manager in the local supermarket in my hometown. To say that I dreamed of moving to another country, I can’t. I was satisfied with everything here in Russia.
But one day I was downsized. Or rather, my boss called me and hinted that things were not going very well at the supermarket, and that big changes were probably coming. At the time, as it turned out later, the market had already been bought by the new owners. And as they say, a new broom sweeps in a new way. In general, there was an order from above to fire half of the employees and replace them with new ones. I was one of the unemployed.
Of course I didn’t work at that supermarket for very long – only three years. But I was very hurt and sad that I had lost a good and promising, as I understood it, job. What to do next, I did not know. Our town is not a very big, there was not much choice.
That time a friend invited me to go with her to Portugal to celebrate her birthday. Without thinking twice I agreed. I booked the passport, bought tickets, and on the appointed date my girlfriend and I boarded the plane. I fell in love with this wonderful country literally at first sight as soon as I stepped off the plane.
In my vacation I somehow accidentally made the “discovery” that the restaurant business in Portugal is in a very poor state. Like a bolt from the blue came the realization that this is my vocation, my chance to change my own life. But again, I had never really thought about it before.
I won’t go into detail about how I made my plans and journey to fulfill them. I will tell you one thing. Three months later, I bought a one-way ticket, got on a plane, and flew to Portugal for good.
The place for the restaurant I chose very carefully – on the waterfront, in a very picturesque place. By the way, I did not open it by myself, but with my partner. He, a successful businessman in my home town, gave me the necessary amount of money, and the rest of the organisational issues fell on my shoulders. Was it difficult? Definitely! I even had thoughts like: “Sveta, maybe, forget it all, what for do you need it? Go back home, get a job in another supermarket and enjoy the carefree life. But then I pulled myself together, lifted my head and moved on.
It was especially empowering that I had a payoff. Even though many mistakes were made, I knew and saw that my restaurant was in demand. I chose the perfect location, every month the turnover of my business has only increased. Especially successful was the last year. Revenue is more than excellent, guests are always in the restaurant, the hall almost all the time remained full. Last season I was elated and confident in the fact that now I will definitely do well, that I have reached the heights, and now I can relax and enjoy a measured, quiet, comfortable life in a beautiful and beloved country, which has recently managed to become truly native.
I had far-reaching plans. Just before the announcement of the quarantine restrictions in the country I planned to implement a new project related to street food. I had even purchased equipment, and all that was left to do was to get everything formally settled. But it wasn’t meant to be.
When I first heard that someone out there in China had contracted a deadly virus, frankly, I didn’t pay any attention or importance to the news. Life was going on, and nothing really seemed to be going on. There were always people in the room, and they even made reservations for me.
After that, it was like a bad dream. First came the news that two residents in Portugal had been infected. Soon recommendations for restrictions followed. Back on March 10, the beaches were packed with locals and tourists. It seemed that the reports and talk of the crown was nothing more than the panic of a couple of inconsiderate people. No one thought about the magnitude of the tragedy at the time.
A few days later, however, the number of people sickened began to skyrocket. In a matter of seconds the authorities decided to close all businesses that operated after 10 pm. And my business was among them. Then came schools and universities. A detailed explanation began to be given as to why it was so important to stay home. And people began to listen, many people self-isolated. The next step was street patrols and the reduction of seating in restaurants by two-thirds. That was the demise of my business.
For about a week the cooks and waiters, despite the fact that there were virtually no customers, went to work faithfully. But one early morning the phone rang. On the other end of the line, I heard the chef’s anxious voice: “Ma’am, our staff has unanimously decided not to come in to work. We’re afraid for ourselves and our families, so we’re going to be quarantined.” Everything, in that moment, the world collapsed in front of me. I knew it wasn’t going to be like before, and all my plans just weren’t going to work out.
Work had stopped, but paying the bills hadn’t. With difficulty, I scraped together the money I needed. A couple of weeks later, like a ray of light, I got a message from the government that it was ready to support small business. They reduced VAT, promised to pay part of the employees’ salaries, provided some loans. And I had hope again. I pulled myself together and began to think, what next? The idea came to me on its own. I decided to try cooking takeaway food. Naturally it was necessary to get a lot of permits, to pass inspections and so on. But I did it.
By and by and by things started to get better. Two of the cooks started working, and the rest were quarantined. What we were earning was enough to pay part of the minimum wage to the rest of the staff. I honestly admitted to everyone that I couldn’t give them more yet, nor could I demand that they wait until everything settled down. During this time half of the staff found other jobs, someone changed the field of activity and went online. But only my most loyal and trusted friends have stayed with me.
When the quarantine was loosened, we got back to our old routine. Well, how old – we tried to make it so. I decided to develop the takeaway and delivery service further. Today the restaurant is up and running, we’re hosting guests, and we have separate people to do the delivery cooking. We are thriving again and hopefully will continue to do so. Difficulties harden. The main conclusion I was able to draw: no panic!”
Our next hero is an IT specialist. He has been living in Portugal for a little over three years. Today Vitali admits that Covid-19 opened up new perspectives and opportunities for him.
“I moved to Portugal consciously. After graduation I worked for some time in an international company that developed all sorts of applications. One day I sent my resume to several large organizations just for fun. I received several offers from them at once. One of them I was particularly interested in. A company was opening an office in Portugal and was searching for a chief developer and a leading IT specialist. The main condition was permanent residency in Portugal. They undertook to take care of the paperwork. I had to provide a passport and a short-term visa for the first time.
Talking with my family, I decided not to turn down this opportunity. Literally six months later I was already in Portugal and was getting to grips with my new job. I was given a great apartment, a separate office in a huge office and complete freedom. Accordingly I also received a handsome salary.
By the way, my wife and child also came to Portugal with me. My son was put in a Russian-speaking kindergarten, and my wife took care of household chores. I was always absent at work and my wife even took offense that I didn’t spend enough time with my family.
I also learned about the pandemic at work: my colleagues were gossiping about the coronavirus, but no one took it seriously. That is, until people started dying. And not just anyone in the world, but real people, our acquaintances, acquaintances of acquaintances, and so on. Sometime in March 2020, I don’t remember the exact dates, we were told that the company would probably be closed for quarantine and we would all be sent to work remotely. To be honest, I didn’t have much of an idea what it would be like. Of course, by virtue of my profession I am not tied to one place. But somehow I got used to going to work every morning and coming back in the evening.
In late March I was already working from home. At first it was a little bit unusual. But I soon settled in. My wife and I had agreed that when I had work to do that was urgent, no one would bother me or come into the room. A special thank you to her for that. She totally understands my situation and allows me to do things when I have work to do.
What’s interesting is that I realized that I could have free time. Tried to get everything done as quickly as possible, and spent the rest of the time with my family. I taught my child to do math and solve simple examples, something I am very proud of. There was a time, when I had no work at all. And again, for the sake of interest, I sent my resumes to the world’s big companies. But this time I indicated that I only agreed to work remotely. And, you know, I received a lot of interesting offers. I accepted several of them, and I quit my job. One company, for which I now carry out orders, is in France, and another in Portugal. I still have a lot of free time, which I enjoy spending with my family.
We love to travel, recently I’ve been into surfing. As soon as the quarantine measures were relaxed, we went on a road trip. Toured half of Portugal so far. I just take my laptop with me, and we go wherever we want. Fortunately, my work allows me to work remotely. And for this I get a pretty good money, which is quite enough to live my family. Perhaps if it were not for the crown, I would never have dared to try to work outside the office. Therefore, it is necessary to look only for the positives in everything. Good luck to everyone, don’t get sick!”
“By education I am a builder; I graduated from a construction college, after which I got a job in my specialty. For several years I worked as a helper, then I was promoted to chief foreman. But the construction company where I worked, collapsed, and I was left without a job. By then I had gotten married and my wife was pregnant.
In a short time I got a job at a local factory. I can’t say that I earned a lot, but I had enough money for a decent life and all the necessities. That is how we lived for several years. Of course, I had thoughts of finding a better and better-paid job, but in our small town there were real problems with it. I even considered going abroad, but I kept putting this idea off.
When I was in my first year of life I started to think about going abroad, and then I decided to leave.
That all changed when my wife told me she was pregnant again. We were happy, of course. But I knew full well that with a baby in our arms my wife would not be able to work, our family budget would shrink, and the money I earned would be lacking catastrophically.
In general, I took another job as a cab driver. I mostly worked night shifts. I would leave for the factory in the morning and then I would get a couple of hours of sleep in the evening. Imagine what my surprise was when at the next scheduled ultrasound doctor said we were expecting twins! Can you imagine? That’s great. But in my head constantly spinning one thought: twice as many children – twice the expense. Only parents will understand my worries: newborns need a lot of things, and what if they get sick, and what if something else … And the older had grown up, already quite an adult, we need new things, and all sorts of girly things.
In general, I clearly realized that the taxi service will not help me and will not save. After talking with my wife, we decided that I had to go to work. Literally a couple of days after this conversation, I met my friend, who also went abroad to work. He promised to help and give me the contacts of the organization, through which he himself was employed. However, I thought it would be Poland or the Czech Republic, as these are the countries our compatriots most often go to. But in the end I went to Portugal.
I got a job there at a construction company where our team worked on the construction of a skyscraper in Lisbon. To be honest, I was happy with the job. To say that it was too hard, I can’t say that it was too hard. I found a common language with the guys right away, we had a lot of Russians in the crew, they brought me up to speed and told me everything. I managed to earn money, I sent money to my wife regularly. I was paid more than I expected.
But when the coronavirus started, everything changed dramatically. Schools and stores started closing, the borders were closed. I knew that sooner or later construction would stop, too. Still, I hoped to the last minute that this would not happen. But my worst expectations were realized.
The fact that construction was frozen indefinitely was reported to us at the end of one of our work days. It wasn’t long before I found out that the construction company we were working for had folded. The thought immediately flashed through my mind: what to do? Stay? But where? Fly home as a matter of urgency? I tried to buy tickets, but the flights were cancelled. I was very upset and began to look for something, at least some way to earn money to pay for housing while I was forced to live here.
But the situation was more serious than I anticipated. Finding a job was proving to be an impossible task. Again thanks to a friend I met in Portugal. A friend of his knew a farmer who needed workers for his vineyards. When he offered me this job – I realized that this was my chance. In general I contacted my employer the next day and he promised me to sort things out at the consulate, so I could continue working officially. By the way, everything is very strict here. If you do not get an official job and do not get a residence permit – they can even deport you and prohibit you from entering the country.
Well, that’s the story that happened to me during the quarantine in Portugal. I am very grateful to my current employer (yes, I forgot to say, I still go to him for seasonal work) for not leaving me in trouble and giving me the opportunity to earn and help my family. By the way, I liked this job and came to love it. It turns out that I like taking care of grapes, growing them, collecting and sorting them. I only took a break when my wife gave birth: I went to stay with her for a few months to help her. Then I came back to Portugal again. If I managed to survive the pandemic here, then all will be well!
However, admittedly, not everyone I know was as lucky. For example, one had to spend everything he earned on rented apartments and food before he could go back to Russia. He and I sometimes chat online, and he says he will never leave his home country again. I plan to stay here for now. It’s not a bad prospect. Especially since seasonal workers are always needed. And it’s a great help to my wife. When she gets out of maternity leave, maybe I’ll even take them all with me. Why? There are very good prospects here, I would not mind to stay in Portugal forever. But for now it’s just a thought out loud.
No panic – just positive thinking!
As you can see, the coronavirus has touched most people. No one is immune from such situations. It is quite possible that this is not the last pandemic in our lives. And not everyone will be able to meet it at home. The most important thing is not to get discouraged and not to panic, and not to give up, as our heroes did.
The most important thing is not to get discouraged and not to panic, and not to give up, as our heroes did.
For some quarantine was a time to get their thoughts in order, to find a new purpose and path. Some have become tougher and more resilient, learning how to overcome seemingly enormous difficulties. However that may be, we, like our heroes, have learned to cope with an epidemic, by the way, one of the most global that has occurred in the last 100 years.
The world is slowly beginning to settle into a rhythm of life. Travel is resuming, and restaurants and hotels are returning to normal. That is not to say we have finally conquered the epidemic and taken it completely under control. But we have learned to live with the new realities, that’s for sure! We hope that the stories of our heroes will serve as an example to someone how not to lose heart and believe in your strength always and under any circumstances.
We have learned to live in the new realities.