Brazil: Congress Approves New Immigration Law

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By Ed Taylor

Brazil's congress has approved a new immigration law guaranteeing the same rights to foreign residents as to native-born Brazilians.

The Migration Law was approved by the country's senate April 18 after having passed the lower house last December. It replaces highly restrictive laws covering foreigners implemented during Brazil's military regime between 1964 and 1985. Under that legislation, immigrants were viewed as a potential threat to national security.

Under the new law, immigrants have the same rights as Brazilians including job access, social security and property ownership. Immigrants can join labor unions and participate in strikes or protests. The law was designed primarily to remove bureaucratic barriers to foreigners seeking to migrate to Brazil for humanitarian reasons.

In addition, the law provides for an amnesty for the estimated 1 million foreigners now living illegally in Brazil, most of them from the South American nations that border it. This compares with 1.1 million registered foreign residents.

The new law does not change existing legislation covering the granting of visas to foreigners seeking to work in Brazil. The government issues both temporary and permanent work visas and in both cases visas are granted on demand.

Foreign Workers Degreed, in Thirties and Forties

Brazilian companies, including multinationals, must request the appropriate visa and guarantee they will provide employment to the recipient. They must also justify why they are hiring a foreigner instead of a Brazilian. Once hired, foreign workers are guaranteed the same rights and benefits enjoyed by Brazilians.

In the period 2011 to 2014, Brazil registered a sharp increase in foreign workers, a result of the country's rapid economic growth during those years. In order to expand output and increase productivity, many companies found it necessary to import skilled workers from Europe and North America for positions that could not be filled by Brazilians. This was particularly true in the petroleum and financial sectors.

From 2011 to 2013, the number of foreigners with registered employment in Brazil soared by 51 percent and in 2014 the government processed 52,000 work visa requests from residents of other countries.

Starting in 2015, however, Brazil plunged into its deepest recession on record with unemployment climbing into double digits and thousands of companies shutting down. In 2016, the number of requests for work visas from foreigners totaled only 20,000, down 61 percent from 2014.

Statistics from the Labor Ministry show a clear distinction between the manpower sought abroad by companies and their domestic workers. Nearly 50 percent of foreign workers in 2015 had a university degree while only 12 percent of all Brazilians have a degree. Also, a majority of the foreigners who received work visas in 2015 were in the age group of 29 to 49.

According to Paulo Sardinha, president of the Brazilian Association of Human Resources, companies are attempting to reduce the costs of foreign workers by hiring expatriates with small or no families.

“The companies have created a local package for foreigners working in Brazil, excluding some benefits such as private schools for children,” Sardinha said. “And who gets this? Only the junior executives or someone with more experience who only comes with his wife.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ed Taylor in Rio de Janeiro at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at

For More Information

For more information on Brazilian HR law and regulation, see the Brazil primer.

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