Since I last wrote about visas in December, things are changing. On the U.S. side, the pro-tourism lobby had some success with pushing for changes to increase the number of Brazilian tourists. In Brazil, immigration changes are reportedly on the way, as the government seeks to increase professional immigrants, particularly from Europe, and cut down on the number of undocumented immigrants from Haiti and South Asia.
Last Thursday, President Obama announced a number of changes to U.S. tourist visa policy, specifically to benefit high-spending Brazilian and Chinese tourists. Here are the changes that pertain to Brazilians:
- Increase non-immigrant visas in Brazil by 40% this year. That includes the plan already in place to add 50 consular employees in Brazil in 2012, and to emit 1.8 million tourist visas in 2013.
- Speed up the amount of time visa applicants wait for an interview. In Brazil, the goal is to interview 80% of non-immigrant visa applicants within 3 weeks of their application.
- In what is perhaps the biggest change for Brazilians, the State Department will implement a pilot program that will waive the required interview for "low-risk" non-immigrant visa applicants, including "younger or older first-time applicants," and those renewing expired visas. The program is expected to affect tens of thousands of Brazilians and to open up more spots for visa interviewees.
- Consider nominating Brazil to participate in the Visa Waiver Program. This talk has been going on for quite awhile, but now it seems to be getting a little more traction. In order to be considered for the program, Brazil must have a visa rejection rate of 3 percent or less; it's currently 5 percent. Though this will be a lengthy process, the same tourist lobby is pushing hard for the government to really consider Brazil for the visa waiver program.
In Brazil, it is immigration visa policy that's come to the fore. After an increasing amount of Haitians arriving in the Amazon (and even immigrants from the Middle East and South Asia) and a spate of media coverage, the Brazilian government announced that it would close its borders to undocumented migrants. It had been giving out visas and work authorization to the several thousand Haitian migrants that arrived in Acre state. In doing so, it also announced a limited legal immigration program for Haitians, in which the Brazilian consulate in Port-au-Prince will issue 100 visas a month.
The other big news is about proposed changes for skilled professionals looking to move to Brazil. The federal government is putting together a commission to study new visa policies that would benefit foreign professionals, particularly Spaniards and Portuguese, who represent the highest number of skilled professionals moving to Brazil. With the crisis in Europe and Brazil's economy still humming along, the government increased the number of work authorizations by at least 32 percent last year, from January to September, issuing nearly 51,400 work visas. The commission will explore ways to simplify and speed up the visa process, in a bid not only to fill the gap of skilled professionals in the Brazilian workforce, but also, according to Globo, attempt a "new cycle of European immigration to Brazil." Not only is the current process difficult and bureaucratic, but it's also very slow, so often immigrants or temporary workers will simply enter on a tourist visa while they await their papers. As Greg Michener points out, for some there are even more hurdles after getting work papers: validating college degrees, or in his case, his Ph.D, are very painful processes. In short, the changes to help facilitate immigration for skilled professionals have yet to come, but the topic is now on the government's agenda.