By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Brazilian government is looking to change the way its immigration policy is oriented towards highly-skilled foreign professionals wanting to work in the country. Some commentators say that Brazil wants to lure skilled workers from Europe made unemployed in the economic downturn, at the same time as a crackdown against illegal workers has also been announced.
If recommendations from a presidential advisory group are followed, highly-qualified foreign workers could be given VIP visa treatment.
The experts say existing rules for skilled migrants are too strict, and that there is too much bureaucracy for applicants while proving their eligibility in the work visa process.
Economist Ricardo Paes de Barros, who is leading the advisory group from the President’s Secretariat of Strategic Affairs (SAE), said that Brazil could see a new wave of skilled immigration if it removed obstacles for those trying to obtain a work visa.
“Brazil is now an island of prosperity in the world and a lot of top-quality people want to come. But the line for visas is the same for everyone. We’re not looking at people closely enough to see who will bring in the skills [needed],” said the economist.
But he added that for unskilled immigrants, including those escaping third-world poverty, Brazil would have to “define how far its generosity extends.”
Regular unskilled immigrants looking to work in Brazil will still have to join the back of the line to get their visa, and the government has also announced a crackdown on illegal foreign workers.
An investigative group from Brazil’s Ministério Público Federal (Public Ministry) says that current strict rules on work visas, coupled with the country’s booming economy, may have sparked a spate of corruption at Brazil’s ports of entry.
Among the suspects is Rio de Janeiro-Galeão (GIG) International Airport, with foreign workers’ sights apparently set on the oil rigs off the Rio State coast. It is suspected some illegal foreign workers enter on a tourist visa – which many nationalities can obtain as they arrive in Brazil.
However, when it comes to highly-skilled foreign professionals, economists point out that this category brings more than just extra hands to fill the gaps – they bring knowledge, technology and a view from outside for the companies employing them.
The proposal of a selective immigration process takes its inspiration from Canadian and Australian policy, whereby those wanting to work in the country are graded based on the qualifications and overall “desirability”.
The preliminary version of the SAE’s project for improving the visa process for skilled foreign workers, a collaboration by economists, lawyers, sociologists and demographers, should be ready in March.
Brazil’s Ministry of Labor and Employment granted 51,353 work permits to foreigners between January and September 2011, up 32 percent year-on-year, O Globo newspaper reported. The number of workers from Spain, for example, grew at least 45 percent.
Some Brazilian companies are said to be opening branches in target countries – such as Spain and Portugal – to circumvent Brazil’s visa process and find the right people to plug gaps in their companies’ workforce.
Whether this attempt by Brazil can bring about a significant knowledge pool from European markets, where professionals have been left jobless by faltering economies, has yet to be seen.