Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Some notes on Brazilian migration trends

A recent article by the Irish Times's Ruadhán Mac Cormaic, "American Dream, Brazilian Reality" takes a detailed look at many of the trends behind Brazilian emigration, starting with the city of Governador Valadores in the prosperous central Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

Governador Valadares doesn’t look like a city in the throes of a great social upheaval. Set amid an endless sweep of coffee plantations and tropical forest in landlocked Minas Gerais state, and reached by way of a turbo-prop plane that swings low into the valley on its twice-daily approach, the city has the detached, languid air of a remote country town.

Brasilia is 1,000km to the west, Sao Paulo almost as far to the south. Were it not for Ibituruna, a soaring volcanic peak that lures intrepid paragliders, or the gem mines that mark the surrounding countryside, you might think, Valadares would scarcely attract a glance from the outside world.

And yet the city has made quite a name for itself by turning its own attention outwards. Ask about emigration in Brazil and the conversation invariably turns to Valadares, a town which, more than any other in the country, is synonymous with the high emigration of the past two decades.

In that time, it is estimated, more than 80,000 people – about a third of its current population – have left here for New England and Florida. Today, nearly every family has someone living in the US. So important has been the flow of American currency back to the city – it amounted to half the city budget until recently, by some estimates – that some had taken to calling it Governador Vala

The city’s link to the US stretches back to the 1940s, when American companies first came to the area seeking mica, a heat-resistant mineral, to help the war effort. That contact led the first migrants to be seduced into moving north and set in train a flow that would define the city for the rest of the century. Today, beyond the veneer of the Brazilian everytown, signs of the link abound. There seems to be an English-language school or a travel agency at every turn, while on the outskirts of the city the large houses modelled on Hollywood’s cliché of American suburbia are hard to miss.

Mac Cormaic goes on to explain that the city's economy has come to depend heavily on the remittances provided by Valadarese migrants to the United States, most of these migrants present illegally, the remittances fueling consumption and business investments. With the onset of the global recession, Governador Valadores' economy is starting to come unglued.

Brazil, like the other BRIC countries, has become a country of mass emigration. As Amaral and Fusco wrote in 2005 "Shaping Brazil: The Role of International Migration", economic turmoil has made a Brazil with the long history of immigration to Brazil that made the country one of the most multicultural countries in the world one providing an increasingly large number of emigrants.

Beginning in the second half of the 1980s, Brazilians from various socioeconomic levels started to emigrate to other countries in search of economic opportunities. High inflation and low economic growth in the 1980s, known as the "lost decade", followed by the government's unsuccessful liberal economic policies in the 1990s, meant that even educated Brazilians could make more money doing low-skilled work abroad.

By the 1990s, over 1.8 million Brazilians were living outside the country (see Table 1), mainly in the United States, Paraguay, and Japan, but also in Italy, Portugal, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Israel. There were no specific policies implemented by the government to encourage or discourage this emigration process.

In 2000, Brazilian consulates and embassies registered eight hundred thousand Brazilian in the United States, concentrated in New York, Miami and Boston, more than four hundred thousand Brazilians in Paraguay, mostly in the east of the country, and a quarter-million in Japan, mostly Japanese-Brazilians recruited to work in the industrial sector, with another four hundred thousand living in other countries. Eduardo L.G. Rios-Neto, in "Managing Migration: The Brazilian Case", suggests that half of Brazilian emigrants come from the prosperous southeast.

Against this, nearly seven hundred thousand immigrants lived in Brazil, particularly the southeast, as "56.3 percent of Brazil's total foreign population came from Europe, 21 percent from South and Central America, and 17.8 percent from Asia." Migrants from elsewhere in South America are also starting to become more prominent, with skilled migrants coming from Argentina and Chile and unskilled migrants arriving from Andean countries. Many of these immigrants are illegal; President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva recently signed into existence a law that regularized the status of many of these.

The future of migration with Brazil is open. Inasmuch as emigration is concentrated particularly among the relatively well-off and well-educated classes of the southeast, Brazil could face a problem of brain drain. The country is not one of the top emigration countries, per capita or even absolutely, but in the context of BRIC countries, Brazil is relatively most affected by emigration--the number of emigrants from Brazil is absolutely much smaller than India or China but relatively larger, while between Brazil and its near-peer Russia, slight net emigration in Brazil and net immigration in Russia is driven by the relatively unattractiveness of Brazil as a destination for migrants from its neighbours. Unlike Russia, Brazil's population is expected to grow: The Population Reference Bureau estimates that the Brazilian population will reached 260 million by 2050, versus a projection of less than 110 million people in Russia. Moreover, if Brazil continues its steady growth, it may yet become a migration magnet acting on its neighbours, just as the United States acts on its less-developed neighbours.

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