Is Brazil about to experience a second golden age of immigration?

New immigration policies in Brazil might soon open the door to fast-track visas for skilled workers. My own experience indicates just how badly reform is needed.

Globo newspaper reported recently that new policies might soon open the door to fast-track visas for skilled workers. With recessions dimming prospects for professionals in both the US and Europe, it is not impossible that Brazil may be about to experience a second golden age of immigration.

Current visa and immigration restrictions reflect the sort of "Brazil for Brazilians" policies emblematic of the last dictatorship (1964-85), during which time authorities drafted the current Statute on Foreigners.

A team within the president’s office, the Secretary of Strategic Affairs, has been assigned to consider alternative visa and immigration policies. The coordinator of that team, Ricardo Paes de Barros, ventures: “now that Brazil is an island of prosperity in the world, there are a lot of good quality people who want to come here.” Paes admits that Canada and Australia are the models that Brazil seeks to emulate.

From January to September of 2011 – President Rousseff’s first year in office – the number of visas issued increased by a full third. There were 51,353 visas issued last year. 

Spaniards are currently the largest demographic of skilled workers with visas. They experience greater ease in learning the language, adapting to the culture, and suffer from a woeful dearth of opportunities at home. Unemployment in Spain hovers at an untenable 25 percent. When asked about his experience settling down to work in Brazil, one Brazil-based Spaniard said to Globo, “the bureaucracy is more complicated than I imagined.”

For someone from a Latin country to admit that the Brazilian bureaucracy is complicated signals the inexplicable and unnecessary complexity of dealing with the Brazilian state. It certainly validates my own excruciating experience. Visa requirements – filling-out an application and certifying qualifications in the Brazilian consulate (at a cost) – are only the beginning of what it can mean to work in Brazil.

My own experience

In my own case, a long, grinding bureaucratic process to validate my Ph.D. – in order to teach – caused me such heart-wrenching desperation that I had to give my feelings regular pep-talks.

The first step I had to take was to FedEx my UT diploma, signed by the university, to the “closest Brazilian consulate” – Houston. The cost of the FedEx aside, authentication ran me about US$25 for an official-looking seal on the back of my diploma. The remaining "validation" of my Ph.D. took over 10 months. I required costly “official” (juramentado) translations, a heap of paperwork, certified records of everything I have ever done academic-related, a dissertation assessment committee required to vet my work, and multiple visits to notaries, federal university offices, and even an appeal to the dean of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. The entire process cost me about US $2,000 and much premature aging. I do not wish this experience on anyone.

The implication of my own Kafkaesque journey through the Brazilian bureaucracy suggests that liberalizing the issuance of visas is not enough. The ‘validation’ of qualifications will also have to be streamlined if Brazil wishes to attract and keep talent. The Globo article that inspired this post provides the example of Technip, a Brazilian engineering company. In order to avoid the vagaries of the Brazilian visa process, Technip opened up an office in Portugal.

--- Greg Michener, based in Rio de Janeiro, writes the blog, Observing Brazil. He is currently writing a book on Freedom of Information in Latin America for Cambridge University Press.

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