12 Fev

Frederico BRANDÃO and Annelies ZOOMERS

Utrecht University (329)



Cape Verde is an archipelago with a long history of migration flows. It is estimated that half a million nationals live overseas. But now that their country is developing into ‘the most democratic nation in Africa’ and has become a lower middle income country, considerable numbers are returning home. This paper provides an overview of current migration policies in Cape Verde, in particular, those implemented under the EU Mobility Partnership. Based on empirical evidence, we analyse to what extent encouraging return and/or circular migration – as part of the strategy supported by the Mobility Partnership – provides a contribution to local development.


The Republic of Cape Verde, a high-emigration island nation off the coast of West Africa and highly dependent on remittances, was selected as one of the first countries the EU signed mobility partnerships with (in 2008, together with Moldova). Cape Verde, also called ‘the Galapagos of Migrations’ (330) and ‘the Transnational Archipelago’, (331) has a history of mass migration going back centuries and is referred to as the only state to be ‘born transnationalised’, as its independence is recent, compared to its migration history (Góis, 2006).

Cape Verde has developed rapidly in terms of economic growth and human development since its independence in 1975. Today, it is considered one of the most transparent and stable democracies in Africa (Baker, 2006). In a recent visit to Cape Verde, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton praised local authorities for being “models of democracy and economic progress in Africa”. (332) One should not forget, however, that Cape Verde was one of the world’s poorest countries just a few decades ago. For centuries, the archipelago was one of the harshest places to survive in (barrenness and the scarcity of rain have marked Cape Verdeanity). Of the last 265 years, 97 were years of drought; 14 of these lasted at least 3 years (Baker, 2006). Famine was also a terrible problem: in 1941/1942 and 1946/1948, 20,000 starved to death in Santiago (Carreira, 1982). The country has roughly half a million inhabitants and it is estimated that another half a million (or more, if descendants are counted) live in other countries. The main destinations are Portugal, the USA and Angola, though there are significant numbers in France, the Netherlands and Senegal (Carling, 2004).

Cape Verde has been an exceptional case of migrant influence. As Carling and Batalha (2008, p. 13) stated, “few countries in the world have been as profoundly shaped by migration as Cape Verde”. In fact, the real volume of remittances has steadily increased over the last two decades, representing 12% of GDP in 2006 (World Bank, 2008). Another example is migrants’ political influence in presidential elections where diaspora votes were determinant for the victory of Pedro Pires both in 2001 and 2006 (Baker, 2006).

Recognizing the importance of the archipelago in migration issues, the EU (together with Portugal, Spain, France and Luxembourg) signed in 2008 the Mobility Partnership with Cape Verde. It represents a new pilot instrument meant to achieve a triple win situation (i.e., to meet the interests of the EU, Cape Verde, as well as the migrant population). The partnership is expected to make a major contribution to joint management of migration flows between the EU and Cape Verde in a spirit of ‘shared responsibility’, in line with the principles of the ’Global Approach to Migration’. There are three areas of awareness: to promote mobility, legal migration and integration; migrations and development; and to combat illegal migration and trafficking in human beings and to strengthen management of the borders and document security (333).

Under this framework, negotiations started in 2010 between the European Commission and Cape Verde on EU-CV joint Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements. It is also in process the signature of a working arrangement between Cape Verde and Frontex, the EU’s border security agency (Council of the European Union, 2010). In relation to the second priority (migration and development) several initiatives are currently being implemented focusing on return and circular migration (return is also part of the circular migration process).

This paper gives an overview of the diversity of current migration policies in Cape Verde. Emphasis is given to initiatives implemented under the Mobility Partnership, in particular, to those encouraging return and/or circular migration. We will also demonstrate that in the current situation return migration has little impact in the archipelago, often bypassing local development. The results obtained (334) suggest that much needs to be done in order to maximise the development impact of return migrants. As long as return or circular migrants are not successfully integrated back home and have difficulties to use the resources acquired overseas in productive ways, Mobility Partnerships will probably fail for migrant-sending countries.

I. – The political-institutional context in Cape Verde

The archipelago has become an arena where different actors play a role shaping the dynamics of migration. Firstly, the government is, for a long time (and particularly over the last decade), making efforts to benefit from the huge diaspora residing worldwide. Secondly, the EU (and some of its Member States), and IOM have been actively involved (particularly since the Mobility Partnership) in Cape Verde supporting and implementing a broad range of migration programmes and projects. Thirdly, given the priority assumed by migration and development at the international agenda and consequently the availability of large amount of money for migration projects, (335) several NGOs are also implementing projects in the field of migrations. (336)

II. – National Policies

The government of Cape Verde is for long time trying to optimise the development impact of migration. In fact, migrants were called to participate in the first elections held in 1976 in “honour of their sacrifice and contribution to the archipelago’s subsistence” (Barros, 2008). Migrants were allowed to elect and be elected in presidential and national elections. Naturalisation rules were eased, incentives were created to invest and save in Cape Verde, and return was facilitated through tax exemptions and social security agreements with destination countries. Migrants have also benefited from special conditions during economic liberalisation: the government established a quota for migrants in each wave of privatisation (Barros, 2008).

Currently, Cape Verdean migration policy pursues two general objectives: to promote the socio-economic integration of emigrants in destination countries; and to create conditions to attract migrant resources. The government’s programme states that Cape Verde should work towards the “adoption of a migration policy that defends the interests of the Cape Verdean community abroad and involve migrants, to a growing extent, in Cape Verdean economic and political life” (IC, 2009, a).

Particular attention is being given to attract migrant investment. The legislation adopted in 1995 created special migrant accounts offering incentives to save in Cape Verde. Emigrants are currently treated as foreign investors as long as their investments come from abroad, thus, migrants are eligible for the benefits defined in the foreign investor statute, which provides a handful of fiscal and tax incentives with a special focus on tourism and industry (IC, 2009, b).The government is currently preparing a new statute specifically for migrants with advantage conditions in relation to non-national’s investment. Finally, the government is also establishing contacts with migrant investors (337) worldwide providing information about all aspects related to migrant’s investment, such as legislation, land prices and ideas for possible businesses.

III. – EU Policies

While Cape Verdean authorities are primarily interested in attracting migrant investment, the EU is mainly focused in promoting circular and return migration and fighting irregular migration. There are four initiatives implemented under the Mobility Partnership. The ‘Diaspora for Development of Cape Verde’ project intended to use the resources of diaspora to foster development, and especially to strengthen the capacity of key development sectors in Cape Verde, through active engagement of diaspora professionals living in Portugal, Italy and the Netherlands. It also aimed to tighten diaspora transnational linkages and strengthen the communication network between diaspora members and institutional entities in Cape Verde (IC, 2008). The initiative gave citizens in diaspora concrete opportunities to engage in the country’s development by transferring their skills and experience to professionals in Cape Verde and by developing entrepreneurial projects with Cape Verdean and host countries’ communities and partners. (338)

Another programme with a similar philosophy – Diaspora Contribute – aims to engage migrants and their descendants in the economic, social and cultural development of Cape Verde. The project is in an early stage of implementation and there are still details to improve. The first step is to identify important skills and experience among Cape Verdeans living in Spain. Afterwards, migrants will be asked to give workshops to public and private organisations in Cape Verde. The plan is to extend the project to other host countries (IC, 2009, c).

Moreover, France and Cape Verde signed in 2008 an agreement concerning the regulation of the flow between both countries and codevelopment. Among the list of measures, the agreement establishes the facilitation for short term and multiple entry visas for a period of three months per semester and for short term visa for medical issues. It also allows young graduates to stay in France for a period of nine months in order to acquire professional experience. Two cards were created: competences and talent card, allowing high skilled migrants to stay with the possibility to renew for three years in France; workers card, allows Cape Verdeans to work in 40 determined professions. The agreement also supports migrants willing to return and implement a project in Cape Verde finances up to 70% of the project cost and provides advisory support.

Finally, in 2008, CAMPO (339) (Centre for Migrant Support at the Country of Origin) was inaugurated in Praia. The project aims to foster legal and fighting illegal migration, through the reception, advisory and information of Cape Verdean citizens who aim to migrate to Portugal. Since then the Portuguese Government and IOM are developing strategies to stretch the project to the whole country and to give a ‘European dimension’, providing information about opportunities in other European countries. It is also planned to broaden the action by providing information about possible investments in Cape Verde, foster the tieswith diaspora members and help migrants to be in touch with migrant associations in the destination country (IPAD, 2008, b).

IV. – Is circular and/or return migration in favour of Cape Verdean development?

As shown above, much emphasis is being given by the Mobility Partnership to encourage circular (return is also part of the circular process) and return migration. At this moment, conditions for return are relatively favourable in Cape Verde and returnees are seen everywhere: government buildings are full of people who studied abroad, and the streets of Praia are lined up with green-licensed cars and new, showy houses. But according to the conclusions of previous research (340) (Brandão and Zoomers, 2010; Brandão, 2009) despite the presence and visibility of returnees, their developmental impact is restricted: they cannot be considered the motor of local economic development.

First, most returnees do not bring financial capital with them, while those who invest do it mainly in housing and family support. Although this has an important positive impact, investment in business is limited. The reason for the general low level of investment in business is the difficulty to set up an economic activity in Cape Verde. There are structural factors contributing to the harshness of the Cape Verdean economy, like the fact that the country is an archipelago and consequently transportation costs are high and the market is small. However, when respondents were asked if they had difficulty in investing, some of them identified several other problems. The high value of import tariffs was the main problem. Heavy bureaucracy, credit difficulties and lack of responsibility among economic agents were other issues referred to (Brandão and Zoomers, 2010).

Second, the human capital that returnees bring back home is not automatically used in a productive way. Many returnees are retired or become unemployed, which means that the human capital acquired abroad is not exploited. Return migrants who studied abroad (coming back after finishing their studies overseas) do bring back new knowledge and skills, but the opportunities to put these new ideas into practice are often limited, as the structures in Cape Verde are not as open and receptive as they need to be. As summarised by a respondent, there are “highly motivated and educated people who return to Cape Verde with ideas and projects”. But “they find barrier after barrier in their way to implement their projects. At the end, they quit. It is a waste of potential” (Brandão and Zoomers, 2010).

Third, migrants are transnational actors interacting with various places, communicating and transferring knowledge and skills. In Cape Verde it is true that most returnees maintain transnational relationships,however the social capital in terms of professional relations, is often small, as returnees mainly maintain contact with friends and family members (Brandão and Zoomers, 2010).

The majority of returnees returned because they feel nostalgia for their country: some return to retire, but their money is limited and mainly used for house construction; others return as a result of unsuccessful experiences and/or lack of opportunities abroad. It is mainly the graduate returnees who could make a difference, but most return without money. Their motivation tends to be high, but their manoeuvring space is very limited. Returnees face structural constraints that prevent them from using their skills, and there are few opportunities to invest in productive ventures (Brandão and Zoomers, 2010).


The Republic of Cape Verde (along with Moldova) is among the first countries the EU signed mobility partnerships with. The Mobility Partnership reflects Cape Verde’s interests as regards facilitation of short stay for its nationals on European Union territory, and those of the European Union as regards combating illegal immigration and readmission. The partnership also promotes initiatives to maximise the benefits of migration for development and, in particular, to do more to enable the Cape Verdean diaspora to contribute to the development of its country of origin, notably by encouraging transfers of money and skills and facilitating circular migration and/or return, so as to mitigate the impact of the emigration of highly qualified individuals.

It is, of course, difficult to analyse the impact and viability of policy measures that are in a pilot phase, but based on the experience in Cape Verde it becomes clear that return and circular migration (as emphasised in the context of the mobility partnership) will not contribute to Cape Verdean development automatically. Mobility partnerships (as currently implemented by the EU) might work as tool to ‘control’ and/or reduce migration, but will have little impact in stimulating Cape Verdean development as long as returnees have difficulties to make use of the resources acquired overseas. The focus should not be on supporting or promoting circular or return migration, but on improving local conditions and local people’s capacity to invest, make use of new ideas and benefit from professional relationships overseas. The governmental effort to encourage and facilitate migrants’ investment is much in line with the archipelago’s needs. Rather than encouraging circular and return migration, the EU could play an important role in improving migrants’ life in the areas of destination and supporting Cape Verdean authorities in terms of investment promotion.


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BAKER, B., “Cape Verde: the most democratic nation of Africa?”, Journal of Modern African Studies, No. 44, 2006, pp. 493-511.

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BRANDAO, F. and ZOOMERS, A., Sodade di Nhos Terra: the development potential of return migration to Cape Verde, IDPR, Liverpool University Press, No. 32, 2010, pp. 267-289.

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CARLING, J. and BATALHA, L., “Cape Verdean Migration and Diaspora”, in Transnational Archipelago. Perspectives on Cape Verdean Migration and Diaspora (L. BATALHA and J. CARLING eds), Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 2008.

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IPAD (Instituto português de apoio ao desenvolvimento), a, Programa Indicativo de Cooperacão, Portugal: Cabo Verde, Lisbon, IPAD, 2008.

IPAD (Instituto português de apoio ao desenvolvimento), b, “Projecto Centro de Apoio ao Migrante no País de Origem – CAMPO – Cabo Verde”,, 2008.

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(329) This article is based on F. BRANDÃO & A. ZOOMERS, 2010.

(330) See J. DEPARLE, New York Times, 2007.

(331) Title of a book edited by L. BATALHA and J. CARLING, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 2008.

(332) Cape Verdean Government official Website,

(333) See “The European Union and Cape Verde enter into a mobility partnership”,

(334) Through a survey and in-depth interviews carried out in the capital of Cape Verde – Praia, island of Santiago – among 82 returnees in February-June 2009.

(335) For example EC-UN Joint Migration and Development Initiative that funded 54 projects (approximately A10 million) in 16target countries, including Cape Verde

(336) This paper does not target NGO’s initiatives. INDE’s “Sustainable tourism and remittances” in Fogo island and OMCV’s “remittances as a source of development” are examples of projects implemented by NGOs.

(337) In one case it resulted in a joint venture “Cabo Verde Fast Ferry”.

(338) Previous frameworks were too rigid to deal with migrants’ aspirations. Many migrants want to contribute to their country but do not want to lose the living standard they have achieved in the country of destination. IOM is therefore now focusing on temporary (or ‘virtual’) return.

(339) On 22 January 2007, the EU Immigration Commissioner, Franco Frattini, unveiled a pilot project for a new ‘guest worker’ scheme for Africa, which aims to boost local economies, enhance the earning potential of migrants, and consequently stop – or at least significantly reduce – irregular migration. The aim of this scheme is to help migrants find jobs in the EU in sectors such as agriculture, construction and sanitation services. The EU planned to set up job centers for African migrants, first in Mali, then in Cape Verde, Senegal and Mauritania.

(340) These results take into account migrants who return spontaneously. The number of people who return in the context of programmes is very small.


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