If the same rhythm of the first semester is maintained
throughout the year, Brazil will end 2000 with 23,000 new foreign workers.
Curiously, 27 percent of all the work authorizations are being given
to experts in underwater exploration.
By Iosif Landau
Brazil has never seen so many foreign workers. While the amount of this overseas help
is only a fraction of what the United States imports, it is still rather important for
Brazil since most of these jobs are technical and managerial positions and there aren’t
many of such positions around.
The number of foreigners who were given authorization to work in Brazil since 1997 has
increased by 56 percent, according to the Labor and Employment Ministry. While there were
24,503 foreigners working legally in Brazil in 1997 (20 percent of them were from the US),
today there are 38,310 of them.
By comparison, there are 15.7 million immigrant workers in the US, the highest level in
seven decades and they represent 12 percent of the American workforce. And there is
pressure from software companies, farmers and hotels in order that Congress would enact
legislation to admit hundreds of thousands of additional foreign workers every year. About
800,000 immigrants enter the US legally each year; another 300,000 do it illegally.
The daily average of work permits given to foreigners has increased from 34 in 1999 to
63 this year. If the same rhythm of the first semester is maintained throughout the year,
Brazil will end 2000 with 23,000 new foreign workers.
The work authorizations have a two-year validity and can be renewed for a second
two-year period. As in the US, the immigrant or his employer has to prove that there is no
Brazilian who would be able to do the job. For being partners at the Mercosul, people from
Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay have an advantage: they can work up to 90 days with a
Late August, in an effort to make it harder for a foreigner to get a permit, Brazilian
House of Representative’s Foreign Relations Committee passed a bill that would allow
foreign workers only from countries that would also admit Brazilian to work there. The
measure based on the reciprocity principle would require studies by the government. To
become law the bill still has to be approved by the full senate and President Fernando
Curiously, 27 percent of all the work authorizations are being given to experts in
underwater exploration. From the 1389 foreign workers who entered Brazil form January to
March, 364 were engineers, 256 were managers and 199 were chemist and physicists.
The government doesn’t seem worried with this growth of foreign workers. In an
interview with Brasília’s daily Correio Braziliense, Sadi Ribeiro, Labor
Ministry’s coordinator for immigration, declared: "The cost of a foreign worker is
very high. Besides a good salary you need to give them housing, transportation and school
for their children."
A Foreigner’s Viewpoint
Daily Jornal do Brasil published ten essays written by foreign correspondents,
writers, and scientists, all talking about their Brazilian experience. Here’s what
Christian Dutilleux correspondent for the French newspaper Libération had to say:
"I arrived in Brazil in 1985, with a group of young Europeans. We came over here
not running away from wars and poverty like our predecessors. I wanted to understand and
study new cultures and maybe start a new life here. I hoped to find a new culture and a
political revolution celebrating the end of a long dictatorship, like it happened in Spain
after Franco’s death. The turmoil of Collor’s Cruzado Plan took me by surprise. I thought:
how lucky I am, I arrived just in time in the land of future! I felt euphoric!
"But many Brazilian friends did not share my feelings. They dreamed of traveling
to Miami, wished for a scholarship in Canada, wanted to get a job in Milan. Our wishes
went in the opposite direction. On many occasions new friends would ask: "How did you
land in Brazil?" At first, not quite understanding, I would answer: "By plane of
course!" After a while I managed to feel what they meant when I discovered strange
expressions like "The First World."
"Quite a lot of Brazilians worship this concept. It divides the planet in two
opposites. One where all is perfect, people are well bred, elegant, human rights are
preserved, politicians are honest, companies are highly technical and all conversation is
intelligent. The other is a poor and dim Carnaval parade displaying misery, violence,
corruption and bad taste. Those who admire the first one, place the First World in the
northern hemisphere. It’s a large conglomerate of countries starting in western Europe and
ending with Japan, including Belgium, my homeland. Belgium is used here as a parameter of
prosperity when it is said that Brazil is a "Belíndia", a rich Belgium in the
middle of an extremely poor India.
"These concepts are extremely harmful to Brazilians’ state of mind, mainly because
it obscures and weakens their vision of the world. The notion of First World wipes out
history and geography as it stands, puts Japan and Portugal, Basques and Eskimos on the
same level, is unable to notice the rich Arabs, the needy Americans, the Irish terrorism
and France’s strikes. Utopian Belíndia transforms Belgium into a feud of wealthy
maharajas only because Belgian workers used to be the best paid in the whole world.
"Worse yet, these notions always place Brazil behind and below other countries,
like a land condemned eternally to being outside this world. Unfortunately many Brazilians
accept that thought. That is why I ask myself quite perplexed: why a native of the First
World, a Belgian, would "land in Brazil?"
"Being here could only be a consequence of some inner problem, maybe an intimate
disturbance. That was the general thought. Frequently they would try several explanations.
It must be the sexual appeal of the mulatto woman, some fancied. All avoided questions
concerning their belief in the existence of the First World that continued to be a
near-paradise, and I who fled from earthly Eden must be some kind of oddball, maybe some
degenerate…a chromatic degenerate.
"When, at any social meeting, I managed to avoid the subject of sex and mulatto, I
inevitably fell into another trap: praise Brazil! Instantly answers showered.
"Terrible. Insufferable." I was condemned to tiresome speeches on the country’s
ills. They even took turns attempting to "teach" me how awful this country is
and I should really be cautious they insisted. That’s how I found out that Brazilians were
merciless with their own country.
"But I had to deal with the other side of the coin. Months and years gone (I do
not remember how many) I found out another aspect of Brazilian patriotism. Working as
correspondent, at times I started small talk by mentioning some kind of misfortune
encountered while doing my job. Instantly I was flooded with harsh words. All against me.
Who was I to criticize Brazil in such a manner? And in Belgium nothing unlawful happens?
Pedophiles? Troublemakers? And people bathe daily? And again tiresome speeches defending
the beloved homeland, which, if I understood well, is equal to the best in-the-world
"The relationship of love and hate with their country, the make believe of a
better world on the outside and the permanent questioning of their national identity, are
profound aspects of the Brazilian soul. Fifteen years gone, I still try to understand this
country. Day after day, it fascinates me and angers me, I feel accepted and at the same
time rejected; these feelings penetrate the blood in my veins permanently. I believe that
somehow I became culturally… "mulatto", and I still don’t know why "I
landed in Brazil".