I spotted a couple of articles recently boasting about a large influx of foreigners working in Brazil. But they seem to be a little off, to say the least. Taking a look at two of them, it's easy to see a lack of perspective.
Estadao recently reported that Brazil has become "a land of opportunity" for young foreigners seeking international work experience. The only source? Numbers from AIESEC, an international organization that places students in foreign internships, which reported that its Brazil placements doubled in the last year. This is not only an inaccurate gage of overall trends (needless to say, citing a single source is inadequate for any story of this type), but it also failed to stress the fact that AIESEC charges students for the internships, so that students are not only not getting paid for their work, but are in fact paying to work. Because the students don't receive remuneration, it's easier for them to get visas (I'm not sure which AIESEC requires, but it's possible they don't require work visas). It seemed like an odd promotional piece for AIESEC, but failed to actually find a real trend, despite the fact that there is an increased interest in Brazil amongst foreigners.
Correction: An AIESEC rep contacted me with the following information: Participants pay for the program, but receive compensation (he did not tell me if the stipend covers the cost of the program, but says it does cover "living costs"). Also, he informed me that: "About the Visa, we're currently using two RN (Resoluçao Normativas) from the Counselor of Immigration (CNIg), one for our professional traineeships the RN 88, that is just available for undergraduated students to make internships on companies, in which they receive a financial support (who cover all his expenses here) and, the other, for our social internship, the RN68, that is just available for volunteer work on NGOs or Social Projects, this one, as volunteer, don't receive a financial support, but they have guaranteed hosting for free, meals and transportation.") So they don't actually issue work visas, the main point of this post, but they do offer special visas that allow foreigners to work at local companies and organizations for a short term period (the site says between 6 weeks and 18 months). Also, the website states that internships are available for recent college graduates.
The next story did manage to identify some real trends, but skirted some of the thornier issues of foreigners working in Brazil. According to a special report from Yahoo, the Brazilian government issued 18.8 percent more work visas this year to foreigners, a definite rise due to an increase in international trade. But the article makes it seem like Brazil is a beacon for foreign workers not only because of its economic importance, but also because of its culture and hospitality. One source claimed, "We don't impose any obstacles on foreigners; we're welcoming." It also mentions cushy benefits offered by some multinational companies, like subsidies for education, housing, and travel.
The reality is that it's extremely difficult to get a Brazilian work visa. While it's true that more multinationals are opening offices in Brazil (mainly in Sao Paulo, by my rough estimation), the most common way to get a work visa is to be hired by a foreign company abroad, either to initially work in the country of origin or to be hired to be sent to work in a new office or new position in Brazil. Despite the fact that these companies usually deal with the majority of the work visa responsibilities, it's still a lengthy and painful process. Since it frequently takes so long for the paperwork to go through, sometimes professionals moving to Brazil enter on a tourist visa and wait for their papers to come through before they change their status.
Even though the US is protectionist in terms of its workers, and has one of the most convoluted and broken visa systems, its work visa system does allow for American companies to hire foreigners directly, especially those already living or studying in the US. To my knowledge, it's much less common for Brazilian companies to directly hire foreigners unless they're highly specialized, like engineers or Ph.Ds. Meanwhile, Brazilian companies may be more likely to hire foreigners already living in Brazil if they're permanent residents, alleviating the need to deal with the bureaucratic work visa process.
Since Brazil has become such an important part of the global economy, it's inevitable that more companies will want to invest and work there. But the fact that multinationals are still relying on foreign workers is not necessarily a good sign; it means that they either do not want or cannot find adequate local labor. This can be detrimental for Brazilian workers, leaving them out and benefitting foreigners who could otherwise find jobs at home. On the other hand, it's always a good thing to have a growing pool of foreign workers, since it helps innovation and can ultimately be profitable and beneficial to those involved (a fact that many xenophobic Americans are often woefully unaware of when debating this subject). Outsiders can help identify problems and offer solutions, or they may be able to provide valuable training and knowledge to local workers.
The bottom line? Ultimately, offering more short-term work opportunities to foreigners would provide an important boost to the Brazilian economy, especially in areas where there's a dearth of qualified local workers. Foreign language instruction is a good example, since there are limited visas available through specific organizations, though it's a critical area with a huge need, not only due to globalization but also for the World Cup and the Olympics. There is a definite need to ensure that local workers are able to compete, but there is also a wealth of opportunity to be had by offering foreigners the chance to provide necessary knowledge and experience, or help with new ideas and innovation.