Brazil: New Immigration Law a Bust for Multinationals

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By Ed Taylor

The goal of Brazil’s new immigration law, effective Nov. 21, was to facilitate the entry of foreign workers into the country. So far, it has done exactly the opposite, provoking widespread chaos in the plans of multinationals.

The new Migration Law replaces highly restrictive statutes enacted during Brazil’s military regime between 1964 and 1985. That legislation was xenophobic and viewed immigrants as a potential threat to national security. The new law moves in the opposite direction, guaranteeing the same rights to foreign residents as are guaranteed to native-born Brazilians.

The law was signed in May with the understanding that before it took effect in November, the government would issue additional measures to define important aspects of the new legislation, such as the process for seeking and receiving work visas from Brazilian consulates and embassies.

No Work Visas

In fact, only on the day the law took effect did the government issue a decree that supposedly regulates the legislation. Since then, multinationals and companies specializing in bringing foreign executives into Brazil have been battling the bureaucracy—with little to show for their efforts—and companies accustomed to bringing executives into Brazil on a monthly basis have seen their employees stranded abroad.

Diplomats, the labor ministry, and the federal police have warned they are not yet ready to implement the new law, claiming that the administrative procedures have not been defined.

“The decree only came out now at the same time the law took effect,” said Diana Quintas, an attorney who is a partner in the immigration consultancy firm Fragomen Brasil. “There has not been enough time for the authorities to alter their systems to deal with the new law.”

According to attorney Rene Ramos with immigration consultancy Emdoc, it is currently impossible to generate work visas for foreigners. Companies seeking information on work visas on the labor ministry's website are told that new requests must wait for legal clarification.

Anxiety

One of the multinationals affected by this chaos is Anglo-Dutch Unilever, a major player in Brazil. Patricia Neves, in charge of arranging the documents for foreign workers for Unilever, told Bloomberg Law that she has been blocked from bringing a Mexican and an American executive into Brazil because of the lack of clarification of the new rules.

“I have professionals who should start work in Brazil in January,” Neves said Nov. 30, “but I have no idea what time limit I should give them. They can’t understand what is happening, and this generates an anxiety that is as great as changing countries.”

Technical experts called on to make short-term visits to Brazil to repair machinery or to conduct maintenance operations are also being blocked.

“These visas are no longer being issued by Brazilian consulates,” Quintas told Bloomberg Law Nov. 30.

No Planning

The confusion has also affected foreign workers already in Brazil who are seeking Brazilian residency cards routinely issued to long-term foreign residents. Their requests are being blocked, which prevents their companies from putting them on the local payroll.

“This was predictable,” said Marta Mitico, president of the Brazilian association of immigration specialists. “There was no planning. It’s the old story of waiting until the last minute,”

In the face of mounting pressure for results, the labor ministry issued a statement Nov. 28 that its immigration council was working on solutions and “the expectation is that resolutions will be published in the coming weeks.”

The Federal Police, which are responsible for providing visas to foreign workers, said the new law altered dozens of regulations, affecting their ability to process visas.

“The processing of some foreigners had to be interrupted because of the alterations,” the office of the Federal Police in Sao Paulo said in a Nov. 28 press release. “The Federal Police hope that there will be procedural definitions so that these processes can be reopened.”

The foreign ministry said only that the granting of work visas is the responsibility of the labor ministry.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ed Taylor in Rio de Janeiro at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at rvollmar@bna.com

For More Information

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

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