By Doug Gray, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Friday June 26th saw President Lula finally rubber stamp the planned 2009 visa amnesty designed to regularize illegal workers in Brazil. The amnesty has become a mythical golden egg among illegal residents of late, with rumors abound as to whether it will or won’t be passed. Questions have loomed about what it actually means to the estimated 100,000-200,000 illegal workers in the country.
Rio has its own share of problems with clandestine workers. In April, O Globo newspaper reported that eighteen Chinese nationals were caught working illegally at a telecommunications company in Botafogo. Five were immediately asked to leave the country, with the business fined more than R$12,000.
The Lei de Estrangeiro (Foreigner’s Law) has become a regular fixture on the Brazilian political scene. It takes place every decade or so in an attempt to stop cash-in-hand and casual workers operating outside of the tax system. Brazil is well known for its heavy and complex taxation procedures, a source of both derision and frustration for its citizens.
This law will bring in extra revenue for the government as well as regulate workers. In addition, the amnesty comes as a huge relief to those who have outstayed their tourist visas and live under the constant threat of deportation.
The final approval comes three months after the senate first passed the legislation proposed by Congressman William Woo. The new law will grant a two-year provisional visa to successful applicants, with the opportunity to become permanent if the holder has not been convicted of any criminal offense. The amnesty will only be made available to those who entered the country before February 1, 2009.
From the date of approval, illegal foreigners who entered prior to February have 180 days to make themselves known to the Federal Police and register their position. They will need to present proof of their date of entry, a clear criminal record both within and outside of Brazil, and pay an as-yet unconfirmed sum for the Carteira de Identidade de Estrangeiro (CEI).
Up to ninety days before the expiry of the CEI document, valid for two years, applicants will then be able to apply for permanent residency in the country. They must prove the means to sufficiently support themselves and their families and have no outstanding debts and fines in the country. Applicants may not leave Brazil for more than ninety consecutive days during the provisional two year period.
In an official release, Congressman Woo spoke of his happiness that the law had finally been approved. “In their precarious situation (illegal workers) don’t have the security of normal workers and are frequently exploited by unscrupulous employers,” he said. Woo also noted the valuable tax contribution these workers will make to the country.