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By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – This week, Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies approved a new Immigration Law which will create a road map for those with ‘irregular’ status in Brazil to obtain residency. The main requirement for amnesty of those seeking to remain in the country is that they must have entered Brazil before July 6th, 2016.

Brazil, Rio de Janeiro,Refugees staged a protest in Copacabana  Beach in November
Refugees staged a protest in Copacabana Beach in November, photo by Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil.

“We are celebrating this law which will bring an end to the suffering and exploration of thousands of people who just want to be able to enjoy their rights, open a bank account, sign a lease in their own name and apply for a formal job, with regular workers’ benefits,” says lawyer Grover Calderon, president of the ANEIB – Associação Nacional de Estrangeiros e Imigrantes no Brasil (National Association of Foreigners and Immigrants in Brazil).

According to Calderon, there are approximately 60,000 foreigners in Brazil today who will benefit from the law’s amnesty clause and who cannot be considered a refugee. Also not included in the amnesty would be nationals from Mercosur countries, with the exception of Venezuela, (Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Suriname) who are automatically granted authorization to live in Brazil.

Calderon, who is also a university professor in São Paulo, says that it was the ANEIB that proposed and introduced the amnesty clause in the new bill. “We asked for the inclusion after it had already been approved in the Senate, so it will have to go back to it (Upper House) to be approved once again,” said the executive.

Brazil, São Paulo,Immigrants ask for amnesty in the streets of São Paulo,
Immigrants ask for amnesty in the streets of São Paulo, photo courtesy of Aneib.

For human rights groups the bill will also be a big relief for the hundreds of displaced people on temporary refugee status in the country.

“This law will facilitate the entry of immigrants and regulate their residence in Brazilian territory,” Isabel Marquez, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Brazil was quoted as saying this week by news magazine Isto É.

“It will have an impact on the refugee status group as a whole, because the immigrant who today has no other option to settle in the country, asks for refugee status. So it will ease the pressure and the number of refugee requests,” she added.

The bill criminalizes the action of traffickers who promote the illegal entry of foreigners into Brazilian territory and imposes a punishment of two to five years in jail for trafficking persons. The law will also guarantee that the foreigners should not be deported or repatriated if there is proof that his or her life and personal integrity will be at risk in the country of origin.

Amnesty International called the bill “much more just and humane” and a “great victory” for migrant communities living in the country, according to Agencia Brasil. The organization predicts that the law will decriminalize migratory status and allow the full exercise of political rights of refugees and migrants.

“Brazil finally has the possibility to carry out human rights-based legislation and to be consistent with all international treaties with which Brazil has committed itself,” said Marina Motta, Amnesty International’s human rights advisor to Agencia Brasil.

For American expatriate in Rio, Mike Smith, who was able to qualify for the 2009 immigration amnesty, the opportunity to stay in Brazil legally was a life-changer. “To reside legally in a country changes everything, from work opportunities to housing, even banking, and not to mention being able to travel home to see family without the fear of not being allowed to return.”

Due to changes made after it was approved by the Senate, the bill now must return to the Upper House for another vote. If approved by the Senate, the bill will go to President Temer for sanction.

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