Archive | January, 2012

Government to Expedite Work Visas, But Will It Validate You to Work in Brazil?

17 Jan

Globo newspaper reported today that new policies might soon open the door to fast-track visas for skilled workers. With recessions dimming prospects for professionals in both the U.S. and Europe, it is not impossible that Brazil may be about to experience a second golden age of immigration.

Current visa and immigration restrictions reflect the sort of ‘Brazil for Brazilians’ policies emblematic of the last dictatorship (1964-85), during which time authorities drafted the current ‘Statute on Foreigners.’

A team within the President’s Office, the Secretary of Strategic Affairs, has been assigned to consider alternative visa and immigration policies. The Coordinator of that team, Ricardo Paes de Barros, ventures: “now that Brazil is an island of prosperity in the world, there are a lot of good quality people who want to come here.” Paes admits that Canada and Australia are the models that Brazil seeks to emulate.

Map of total immigrants to Brazil

Total of foreign people authorized to work in Brazil by state in 2009 (source: Wikipedia)

From January to September of 2011 – President Rousseff’s first year in office – the number of visas issued increased by a full third, or 32 percent. There were 51,353 visas issued last year. The open approach of the Rousseff administration is consistent with its approach to governing more generally.

Spaniards are currently the largest demographic of skilled workers with visas. They experience greater ease in learning the language, adapting to the culture, and suffer from a woeful dearth of opportunities at home. Unemployment in Spain hovers at an untenable 25 percent. When asked about his experience settling down to work in Brazil, one Brazil-based Spaniard said to Globo, “the bureaucracy is more complicated than I imagined.”

For someone from a Latin country to admit that the Brazilian bureaucracy is complicated signals the inexplicable and unnecessary complexity of dealing with the Brazilian state. It certainly validates my own excruciating experience. Visa requirements – filling-out an application and certifying qualifications in the Brazilian consulate (at a cost) – are only the beginning of what it can mean to work in Brazil.

My Own Experience

In my own case, a long grinding bureaucratic process to validate my Ph.D. – in order to teach – caused me such heart-wrenching desperation that I had to give my feelings regular pep-talks. In disbelief, I asked why the process seemed to tell me that I was not wanted. What type of a country, after all, makes it difficult for Ph.Ds to immigrate?

The first step I had to take was to FedEx my UT diploma, signed by the university, to the “closest Brazilian consulate” – Houston. The cost of the FedEx aside, authentication ran me about US$25 for an official looking seal on the back of my diploma. The remaining ‘validation’ of my Ph.D. took over 10 months. I required costly “official” (juramentado) translations, a heap of paper-work, certified records of everything I have ever done academic-related, a dissertation assessment committee required to vet my work, and multiple visits to notaries, federal university offices, and even an appeal to the Dean of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. The entire process cost me about US$2000 and much premature aging. I do not wish this experience on anyone.

The implication of my own Kafkaesque journey through the Brazilian bureaucracy suggests that liberalizing the issuance of visas is not enough. The ‘validation’ of qualifications will also have to be streamlined if Brazil wishes to attract and keep talent. The Globo article that inspired this post provides the example of Technip, a Brazilian engineering company. In order to avoid the vagaries of the Brazilian visa process, Technip opened up an office in Portugal – so much for creating new jobs and stimulating the economy through skilled immigration.

A few words of advice for those seeking to immigrate to Brazil:

If you can afford it, get a good lawyer, like my brother-in-law, Hugo Porto.

  • Expect to live in Brazil without working for anywhere between 6-16 months. Don’t give up your virtual job back in Europe or the U.S.
  • Get to know people who live in Brazil, before and after you arrive. Work your contacts. Many things get resolved through personal intercession in Brazil; it’s about knowing people.
  • Learn Portuguese. They just don’t speak much English here and you’d be foolish to come without any basic language skills.
  • If possible, obtain strong interest or job commitments before you arrive.

If you have other advice, I’d love to hear your comments. GM




Online Commenting in Brazil: Pathological Pundits or Hired Partisan Hacks?

8 Jan

Brazil is a country known for its disappearing ideological debates, its de-politicized populace, and a ‘culture of consensus’ that renders political debate among strangers or even friends much rarer than in other parts of the world. So when I read Brazilian news online, I always take a minute to scan user-generated comments, a fascinating prism into the nation’s collective consciousness and often  a great source of context and additional data. 

             As in other countries the comment streams of Brazil’s major newspapers have become the underground battlefield for ideologues. But I’m pretty sure that commentators are not just occasional observers or pathological pundits – they are also hired hacks. You be the judge:

 Case Study: Folha de São Paulo

 This past week I was surveying comments after reading an article in the Folha de São Paulo on one of Brazil’s most sensitive issues: inflation – “Increase in the basic consumer basket [consumer-price-index] surpasses 10% in three capitals during 2011”. More so than faltering economic growth or unemployment, inflation is Brazil’s boogeyman, a source of unyielding spookage for those who experienced the despair of hyper-inflation in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But before describing my startling revelation, just a few numbers to reflect on newspaper consumption in Brazil:

 Paper versus Online News

 Folha is Brazil’s most widely distributed newspaper, with an average circulation of approximately 300,000 issues a day – about equal to Canada’s most printed paper, the Toronto Star. These numbers are pretty small if you consider that Canada has about 5 times fewer people than Brazil. In short, not many people read the big national newspapers in Brazil. But you might not either if you were a wage earner like 80 percent of the population[1] and a national newspaper costs a hefty US$1.25. This is precisely why online news has exploded in Brazil. The Blog Tribuna da Internet (The Internet Tribune) reports that the Folha de São Paulo broke all records for Brazilian online newspapers in June 2011, clocking-in 19.4 million individual visits – about 650,000 visitors per day. Folha does have a pay wall, but most articles are free.

           Conclusion: the internet is where most national newspaper-readers get their news, where opinions are formed, and where commentators wage words for the minds and hearts of fellow Brazilians.

 As most everyone who comments on comments has commented, online commenting is not for the faint of heart. It is where the extremes come out.

Explosive Comments on Rising Inflation

Back to my Folha de São Paulo  article: total inflation averaged above 10 percent in 17 Brazilian cities during 2011, according to the DIESSE, a government think-tank. In economic terms, this should give the PT reason to worry, especially with municipal elections coming up. In the Folha, a right-leaning newspaper, there were plenty of critical comments about the PT’s management of the economy. It was former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003), after all, who broke the back of inflation and smoothed the track for his otherly PT predecessors, Presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff.  But for every handful of critics gibing at Brazil’s current mismanagement, there was a PT defender. Like “Adali Adali”:

During the government of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the PSDB the desperation of the Brazilian people reached close to 100%. We were the 14th largest economy, we had an unpayable external debt, we created 87,000 jobs a year and the minimum wage did not exceed $100 dollars per month. With the extraordinary government of Lula from Dilma’s PT, today we’re the 6th largest economy in the world, we’ve created 2,200,000 jobs per year, and the minimum salary is $350 dollars, we’ve paid the external debt and we’re creditors of the IMF.

 My suspicion is that some of these commenters are hired hands, and what is great about the Folha de Sao Paulo’s commenting system, unlike most newspapers, is that beside each contributor’s name Folha puts the number of comments they have made since registering for the website. Adali Adali has a total of 1119 comments, dating back to February 4th, 2011. That’s an average of 3.3 comments a day, including weekends. Adali Adali’s comments represent a non-stop tirade against the PSDB, the party most associated with the Folha. Folha–Adali Adali–comments against PSDB, this contributor posted the same comment (with minor variations) more than a dozen times. The core message went like this:

 The PIG, the Party of the Coup D’État Press [Partido da Imprensa Golpista], associated with the demon-crats-of-the-PSDB, are lost, desperate, and in one more useless attempt to inveigle the worker and elector, embark on a leaking ship of lies, until they gain some trifling advantage with a foul news item like this…

 Thumbs up for poetic license, but an emphatic thumbs down for substanceless, repetive, filler calumny.

 What are we to make of people like Adali Adali? Hired hacks? Or pathological partisans?

 Can Comment Systems Keep Up?

 What is clear is that in Brazil and abroad, comment forums are being colonized by noise-makers, whether they be party hacks or common quacks. The comment-software industry is already becoming a highly contested and innovative marketplace. One of the industry leaders, Disqus, is now on more than a million websites, with Facebook social plug-ins offering a relatively new alternative. In the best of cases, one can sort comments by user, ranking (e.g. “like”), or newest/oldest comments, flag abuse or search by keyword.

             More options and metrics are needed, however. One idea is to post the average frequency of comment-making. But contributors can cheat, opening up new accounts and pseudonyms. Perhaps one IP address should be limited to one contributor. One extreme solution is to include textual analysis in commenting systems, suggesting whether a contributor writing style/vocabulary is somewhat/considerably/extremely similar to that of another.

 The Old Debate: Anonymity vs Accountability

 I don’t know about my readers, but I’d rather not hear from people who comment ten times a day, especially if their comments are re-hashed thoughless reactionism.   This debate will come down to the old “internet anonymity versus accountability” conundrum— irresolvable in a normative sense, but one can imagine that technical solutions are just around the bend.

 Greater political deliberation is needed in Brazil, as it is around the world. But it’s not going to come from extreme positions or hired contributors, but from thoughtful, engaged public debate.  

President Dilma Rousseff the Malfeasant Slayer, yes, but Tax-Cutter?

3 Jan

Six Ministers got the axe during President Dilma Rousseff’s first year in office, but that’s not all she cut. Rousseff has also pruned some small but significant taxes, improving the climate for business. Brazil’s economic vigor was on display in 2011. The Folha de São Paulo reports today that imports and exports broke all previous records, and it is little surprise that Brazil became the sixth largest economy in the world, overtaking the U.K. Add to these economic feats a package of transparency measures that should improve government efficiency, and Brazil may just have what it takes to make it through a looming world recession relatively unscathed.

 Tax Cuts

With record receipts and a record tax burden, it was about time Brazil’s government cut-back on taxes. The ‘Brazil Maior’ (Bigger Brazil) plan, adopted in August of 2011, provided immediate tax reimbursements for purchases of ‘industrial equipment.’ This initiative may lead to a jump in the country’s stock of capital goods and, in turn, its productive capacity.

In December, the government also gave consumers a boost. The financial operations tax was cut from 3 percent to 2.5 percent in an effort to save consumers money on credit operations. The Tax on Industrialized Goods (IPI) fell for domestic kitchen appliances: for fridges it went from 15 to 5 percent, and on dishwashing machines it fell from 20 to 10 percent, to name just a few examples.

Finally, the Brazilian government also gave some pep to domestic industry. It is now giving exporters a 3 percent credit to compensate for taxes paid on goods prior to exporting. The government has also eliminated a 6 percent tax on financial operations for foreign investors who put their money into the infrastructure sector. As an excellent article by Valor Económico sums up, there are many other little tax breaks on individual items and sectors.

Lower Tax Burden?

Does the cost associated with administrating all these different taxes and tax changes in all these different sectors offset the net amount of taxpayer savings…? Overall the net take of government may not have diminished much this year after all.

Government raised taxes significantly in some areas. On cars imported from countries other than Mexico, Uruguay, and Argentina, the Tax on Industrial Goods (IPI) was raised by 30 percent – a major blow to consumers and car importers. In March of 2011, the government also elevated the tax on credit card use outside the country, from 2.38 percent to 6.38 percent.

More Progressive Tax Policy?

All in all, tax policy in 2011 appears to suggest that richer consumers will pay more – those who buy imported cars and spend money abroad – while regular consumers –those buying domestic appliances and using credit domestically – will save a little money. The Rousseff administration also appears to boost domestic industry by helping exporters, boosting incentives to buy capital goods, and further protecting the national automobile industry. Whether these domestic initiatives will amount to real value for Brazilians is worth watching.

It will be even more interesting to see whether some non-financial measures will create greater efficiencies in Brazil. Will transparency measures that form part of Brazil’s commitment to the Open Government Partnership, including the country’s newly passed freedom of information law, help diminish the tax burden — already the highest in the Americas at close to 35 percent of GDP? The hope is that lower taxes result from waste and incompetence revealed, and that procurement and regulatory processes become fairer and more competitive, giving taxpayers greater value.

Now if the government and the court system would only do something to address impunity. According to investigations by the Folha de São Paulo, not one of the six Ministers dismissed from their posts this year on allegations of corruption have been punished. More on that later.