Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Skilled Migrants in Brazil

Latin America’s biggest economy is now the world’s sixth. With a population of over 190 million people and an annual growth of 4 %, Brazil is expected to become the fifth oil exporter by 2020. Despite recent warnings that its economy is not sustainable and that inequality is still prevailing across the country, significant socioeconomic changes have occurred including the 28 million people having moved out of poverty, improved education outcomes - Brazil’s 2009 PISA results placed it ahead of Argentina and Colombia, birth rates lower than the ones of the US (1.9 children/woman vs. 2, down from 6 children/woman in the 1960s) and a closing gender gap in education - women account for 60 % of the country’s graduates.

In addition to these changes which are likely to increase consumption, new employment opportunities will be created thanks to the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. At the same time, Brazil needs more professionals than it produces and is fortunate that the world crisis is bringing the latter its way. In order to facilitate procedures, Brazil is about to revise its immigration policy and create a path for skilled workers.

According to Inter Press Service, Brazil has a shortage of 200,000 to 400,000 professionals in mining, oil and IT while a study by the Getulio Vargas Foundation indicates that the IT industry will have a deficit of 800,000 professionals from here to 2014.

Despite the increased rate of graduates, the Brazilian economy is growing faster and more skilled workers are needed to sustain that growth. The current situation in Brazil is described by demographer Ernesto Amaral (quoted by CNN):

Brazil's boom has created an environment where the demand for high-skilled jobs is now outpacing the growth of Brazil's educated workforce. At the same time, an opposite effect is happening for low-skilled work the percentage of low-educated Brazilians is decreasing, but the demand for low-skilled labor is decreasing faster”.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Brazilian emigrants decreased from over 3 million people in 2007 to less than 2 million in 2011. In addition, Brazil has absorbed a large number of educated unemployed Europeans. The article quotes the National Statistics Institute of Spain (INE): data for 2010 reveal that 11,000 people or half of the Spanish emigrants who chose to leave Europe (60 % of the 37, 000 emigrants did so) went to Latin America.

Gayle Allard 's recently published post on the Spanish diaspora sheds more light: more than 500,000 people left Spain in 2011(again, based on INE data). Not only that Spain has become a country of net emigration but this emigration wave is characterized by emigrants' human capital. Prof. Allard claims that while in the 1960s emigrants were low-skilled, now many engineers, computer specialists, doctors, architects, biologists and other researchers are leaving Spain. She notes that according to the Electoral Census of Spaniards Residing Abroad, Argentina (332,000), Venezuela (145,000) and Brazil (87,000) are among the countries where most emigrants from Spain settled.  

In the first six months of 2011, Brazil's legal immigrants increased by 50 % - from 961,000 to 1.46 million. According to the official portal of the Brazilian government, the growth was due mainly to visas for temporary work, study and research. The biggest increases were registered for migrants from Portugal (from 276,000 to 328,000), Spain (from 58,000 to 80,000), Bolivia, China and Paraguay.

According to the Rio Times, over 51,000 work permits were processed in the first nine months of 2011 - an increase of 32 % over 2010 and 45 % for immigrants from Spain.

A survey by the online recruitment company Monster (which opened an office in Brazil in 2010) revealed that 400,000 foreigners were looking for opportunities in Brazil and 80,000 CVs were submitted, most of them coming from the US (33 %) and Europe (CVs from France, Italy and Spain account for 31 %).

Dennis Barker, the managing editor of Nearshore Americas, just published the insightful post Brazil: More Hugs for IT Immigrants? He mentions a number of articles with a focus on the shortage of skilled professionals and the strengths of the Brazilian economy. In one of these, a manager of the IT outsourcing company Softtek was interviewed. He thinks that Brazil is having difficulty finding senior-level people with English skills, Java developers, SAP and Oracle professionals as well as business analysts. Another one reflects the opinion of the founder of Conquest One - human resources agency specialized in IT: demand is higher from domestic companies and they are expanding to international markets. Barker refers also to Accenture’s case – representatives of the Brazilian office of the consulting company are trying to lure professionals from Spain and Portugal offering wages similar to the ones in Europe. The president of the office states that Accenture’s growth in 2011 was 15 % worldwide but its revenue increased by 25 % in Brazil; and that the company is trying to find people for regions other that Rio-Sao Paulo.

At the time when Brazil is trying to make its immigration attractive for skilled workers, a new policy regarding refugees from Haiti was recently implemented. Newly arrived refugees from the country will be eligible for a maximum of 1,200 permits per year for a five year period, the ones already in Brazil will be regularized and the ones who are illegal will be deported. Haitians are regarded as desirable workers because of their fluency in French and given Brazil’s current infrastructure projects but the inflows raise questions whether the country is too generous and what measures have to be taken for a more sustainable future (since many Haitians settle in Amazonas).

Thus, two immigration paths will be created - for unskilled immigrants, on the one hand, and for skilled professionals, on the other. The advisory group of the Secretariat of Strategic Affairs (a body attached to the President of Brazil) including economists, lawyers, sociologists and demographers will prepare the first draft of the proposal for a skilled migration scheme in March, the ones of Australia and Canada being considered an example.

Ricardo Paes de Barros, the economist who is the head of the advisory group, is in favour of a pragmatic policy which would match Brazil’s demand with the right skills (quoted by O Globo, then in En by the Rio Times):

Brazil is now an island of prosperity in the world and a lot of top-quality people want to come. But the line for visas is the same for everyone. We’re not looking at people closely enough to see who will bring in the skills [needed]

It is not surprising that Brazilian companies opened offices in Southern Europe in order to facilitate legal procedures for prospective immigrants - current immigration policies are complicated and the process of getting a visa might take up to several months.

An overview of all visas is available on the Ministry of Justice website. For the most widely used temporary work visa requiring an employment contract, the company located in Brazil must request from the Ministry of Labour and Employment a work permit (autorização de trabalho) for the duration of up to 2 years. It can be renewed and then give right to permanent residency. But employment laws in Brazil are protective and a number of requirements have to be met. Among these, companies must ensure that at least 2/3 of their personnel are Brazilians and that the total sum of salaries paid to Brazilian employees must be more than twice the amount paid to foreigners. In order to qualify, a Master’s degree or a combination of work experience and some education is required. Applicants’ dependents are also eligible to get visas but they are not allowed to work until permanent residency is acquired.
As far as research is concerned, Brazil has taken important steps to encourage internationalization and relevance to the economy. Nature reports that Brazil ranks 13th in scientific production but officials are worried that there are not enough chemists, physicists, computer scientists and engineers - in the period 2001-09, the number of graduate engineers grew by 1 % compared to 66 % for graduates in arts.

Therefore, Brazil invested around $2 billion in the Science Without Borders program launched last year. It aims to encourage 100,000 Brazilian students to study abroad by 2014 in fields such as IT, biotechnology, engineering, energy, health, marine sciences. 100 scholarships per year will be offered to foreign visiting scholars. In addition, Brazil provides postgraduate scholarships for citizens of developing countries from Latin America, Asia and Africa with which it has signed educational agreements. The fact that the University of Sao Paulo just entered 2012 THE Reputation Rankings top 100 for the first time is likely to make the country more attractive for studies and research collaboration.

To conclude, it remains to be seen to what extent the skilled migrants policy (points-based system) will be similar to those of Canada and Australia and whether there would be criteria unique to the country. Also, when officials say they are inspired by the Canadian system, what do they understand – the points-based system or the occupation lists which undermined its importance? I hope it is the former that inspires Brazil.

My suggestion is that knowledge of English will be valued but knowledge of one of the Romance languages will be worth more points. Probably a combination of both will be considered, just like English and French in the case of Canada. Given the specific skills shortage, it is likely that diplomas and/or experience in the fields of IT and engineering are given a priority. On the other hand, there is also the possibility that a more open policy is applied. Brazil can easily attract many of the young unemployed or underemployed Europeans if age and higher education diplomas in all fields are considered. Finally, Brazil has one advantage that sets it apart from many countries trying to attract skilled migrants - its lifestyle and blend of cultures. While many articles have focused on emigrants from Southern Europe and unemployed professionals in construction, it is very probable that people from many other countries and professional milieus have already arrived or considering this option. Along with prospects of better job opportunities, they would like to experience a different culture. A Dutch geophysicist who recently settled in Rio de Janeiro said that there was no comparison between his tiny Paris-based apartment and the one he got in Ipanema, and that there was no hostility towards foreigners in Brazil. 

If the Brazilian government is serious about attracting skilled migrants, it should use the opportunity to market Brazil's lifestyle in the context of migration during the sports events - the tourism-migration nexus has been largely used as a marketing strategy by Australia and New Zealand. More importantly, however, Brazil's attractiveness will depend on its ability to lift bureaucratic hurdles for skilled immigrants. Nearshore Americas quoted a human capital officer that to get an American to work in Brazil takes ten times more and more money than the other way around. After all, Brazil's competitors are right next door - their economic prospects are good and procedures are speedier.

Further Reading on Brazil's Visas and Labour Law:

  • Haller, Patrick (2011), A deeper Examination of Immigration Policies in the Big Six Latin America Markets, an article published on the website of Nearshore Americas  
  • Morazzani, Jorge and Bigio, Debora (2010), Brazil, the 'B' of the BRICs, an article published in Mobility Magazine 

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