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The immigration challenge of a booming Brazil

Fernando San Juan | Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The international community has been aware of Brazil’s potential for a long time. However, it was not until recently that the country broke free from corruption, high crime rates and extreme poverty. Last month, Brazil passed the United Kingdom as the sixth biggest economy; in addition to an expanding economy, the country will be hosting the 2013 World Youth Day, the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Brazil has been carrying a lot of momentum, and this has definitely been evident in the media’s depiction of the country. Consequently, the narrative about Brazil’s future has changed from one of a to-be superpower to one of an active player in the international political/economical arena.

I visited Brazil for three weeks during Christmas break and the booming economy was definitely the most frequently discussed topic (besides the absurd traffic). This was definitely apparent — everywhere I looked I saw a new construction project, from buildings to bridges to shopping malls.

Brazil is now in unfamiliar territory, and the country will face new challenges and responsibilities. The most obvious of these is immigration, which will feature prominently in Brazil’s future.

Latin Americans looking for a better life may find it more convenient to enter Brazil illegally than the United States, raising the same problems that immigration has created in the U.S.

Brazil did not have to worry about this until recently. In fact, Brazil was more concerned about the fact that many of its highly skilled citizens were leaving the country to work in Europe than a new wave of immigration.

Now that the narrative about Brazil has changed, the country’s skilled work force is more inclined to stay, and a new foreign low-wage work force is flooding the country.

The New York Times recently published an article highlighting some of these immigrants’ stories about their journey to Brazil.

The article mentions that 4,000 Haitians have immigrated to Brazil since the 2010 earthquake, and that thousands continue to arrive every year. Brazil usually expels immigrants from India and Pakistan, but has made an exception for Haitians and other Latin Americans.

In the words of Haitian immigrant Wesley Saint-Fleur, “All I want is work, and Brazil, thank God, has jobs for us.” In order to illustrate how this Latin American powerhouse differs from its fellow Latin American countries, Saint-Fleur mentions that before crossing the border from Bolivia to Brazil, the Bolivian Police stole his family’s clothes and their $320 life savings.

In contrast to their previous experiences, when Saint-Fleur’s family members finally crossed the border into Brazil, authorities quickly gave them a place to stay and provided them with meals, vaccinations and humanitarian visas that would allow them to work. Brazilian officials say that Brazil is big enough to absorb up to 100 Haitians per month and that they are in the position to help fellow Latin Americans in search for a better life. Additionally, Brazil’s unemployment rate continues to remain at a historic low of 5.2 percent. Companies say they usually have a hard time finding workers with the increasing demand for labor needed in the construction of two huge dams, in addition to the new stadiums needed for the World Cup and the Olympics. Many of these immigrants are earning $800 or more per month. Peruvian immigrant Edgar Villar says he receives great satisfaction by being able to send up to $500 per month to help his family back in Peru. Villar explains that he entered Brazil as an illegal immigrant, but like many others, was quickly given a visa through an amnesty program without much hassle.

Another immigrant described Sao Paulo (Brazil’s economic center) as the New York of South America. I would definitely agree, and I believe that with Brazil’s new political and economical role, Americans should be more careful when calling Latin America their backyard.


Fernando San Juan is a junior. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.