By Lenora Deslandes, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – The Presidential decree signed by President Lula in June of 2009 marked the third time that the Brazilian government has offered amnesty to illegal immigrants (the other two were in 1988 and 1998). In the six month period granted by the Brazilian government for foreigners to apply for amnesty, approximately 43,000 people have been granted temporary residency.
The Brazilian government has expressed that by issuing this decree they are trying to help make life easier for immigrants. Luis Paulo Barreto, Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, explains, “Historically, Brazil was built by immigrants. The new immigrants that arrive here can practice their faith and maintain their own culture and still be accepted by the Brazilian culture.”
The majority, around 40,600 of the immigrants granted amnesty were Latin Americans and Asians who were living illegally in Brazil. Most of these individuals are coming to Brazil in search of work opportunities, but due to fear of deportation, are forced to work in substandard conditions for unfair wages.
With amnesty, however, these immigrants are granted all of the basic rights accorded citizens including health care, education and the ability to earn a living. Now as residents, they have all the same rights as natural born Brazilians with a few exceptions, such as the right to run for public office.
Approximately 2,400 of the immigrants that received amnesty were Europeans and Americans. For them, some of whom are entrepreneurs, amnesty means the ability to work more freely, start small businesses, and to expand their investment horizons.
Although many report a smooth process at the Federal Police in the last 180 days, there have been some who have found it to be somewhat unclear. The information published by the Brazilian government is available in Portuguese, and in some cases not keeping up with developments.
The current example is in the case of the “Protocol”, which is the temporary documentation received when applying for amnesty. The small piece of paper includes a passport size photo, some basic identification information, and a 180 days of validity. Officials at the Federal Police explained that within several months an RNE Cards (Registro Nacional Estrangeiro) would be available.
A recipient of the amnesty, who wished to remain anonymous explained; “At the time, in late July, everyone was trying to figure out how to apply, who was eligible, and what it actually meant. It turned out to be a bit of running around, but pretty straight forward, to get the Protocol anyways.”
The big question for most of these recipients was if they could leave and reenter the country with these Protocols, which was allowed. Unfortunately many reported difficulties opening bank accounts and other basic civil procedures. Until the RNE Cards are available, there is a lack of recognition by many institutions regarding the actual meaning of the Protocol.
Further confusion arose because there appeared to be the 180 day period of validation for these Protocols, and no clear process for extension. There is a web site provided to check if the RNE Card is available, but for many, the 180 days passed before the RNE Card was indicated as ready.
According to Alessandro Jacob of Alves Jacob law firm, this isn’t the case. “The protocols are simply a record that you did in fact register with the Federal Police,” says Jacob. After registering, applicants go on record as having legal residency for two years.”
“The law is very clear; once registering with the federal police temporary residents have two years to apply for permanent residency.” He continues, “After registering with the Federal Police your RNE should be ready in a few weeks and with this you can do the essentials like work and open a bank account.”
While many appreciate the legal opinion, there was still a rush of Protocol recipients going to the Federal Police for a new stamp or extension of time documented, while awaiting the RNE Cards.