Thomas White Global Investing
Brazil Stamp
February 10, 2012
A Postcard from the Americas
Brazil: Drawing skilled foreigners in droves

São Paulo’s Faria Lima Avenue

Many of the offices where a large number of skilled foreigners have found high-end jobs are located in São Paulo’s Faria Lima Avenue, which is often described as Brazil’s Wall Street.

The tide has turned. Not too long ago, hordes of dreamy-eyed men and women used to leave Brazil’s shores for greener pastures in the U.S. or Europe. And, visitors to Brazil were mostly those who were lured by the country’s exotic beaches, the rhythmic beats of the Samba, and a smorgasbord of subcultures — from Portuguese to Japanese. Now, given its rapid progress all through the past decade and the relative resilience of its economy in this global slowdown, Brazil has turned out to be a magnet for not just its homesick diaspora but also thousands of career-driven, highly qualified foreigners seeking new opportunities.

The signs are everywhere. Quoting Brazil’s most senior immigration official, a The Washington Post report says the number of foreign residents in the country zoomed from 961,000 in 2010 to nearly 1.5 million last year. On a similar note, a New York Times article points out that the number of work permits issued by the government of Brazil to expatriates has jumped around 144% over the past five years. What’s more, the latest data released by Brazil’s central bank indicate that in 2011, remittances to the country fell to their lowest level since 2002. With an increasing number of Brazilian emigrants returning home, remittances declined from their peak of $2.91 billion in 2008 to $2.22 billion in 2009, $2.08 billion in 2010, and $1.97 billion last year.

The Financial Times (FT), which reported these statistics, has added that in contrast, the monies sent by Brazil-based foreigners to their home countries have been increasing. Tellingly, while the diaspora and highly skilled foreigners have been flocking to Brazil, fewer and fewer Brazilians are inclined to move abroad these days. No wonder the U.S. government recently diluted its long-standing stringent visa policy for Brazilians, making it easier for them to enter America. The FT has said that the gesture reflects not just America’s keenness to host culturally spendthrift Brazilians but also the diminished possibility of these Latin Americans working illegally in the U.S.

Nonetheless, if far-off America has been influenced by these developments, it is no surprise that Brazil itself has experienced a significant impact. For instance, real estate prices have zoomed in the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro neighborhoods, which house or provide office space to expatriates or Brazilians beginning life afresh at home after living abroad. In fact, a recent study by Cushman & Wakefield South America shows that prime office space in Rio is now more expensive than in Manhattan. Most importantly, though, highly skilled expatriates have helped fill a crucial gap in Brazil’s labor market. The unemployment rate in the country is around 6%, but there is a dearth of professionals for top-end jobs. So, foreigners like the 28-year-old Frenchman Olivier Teboul, who a The Washington Post article describes briefly as a professional with a doctorate in applied mathematics recently recruited by Google Brazil, have found dream jobs while helping businesses grow in the Latin American country.

Along with their skills and training, many foreigners have also brought with them business ideas that have worked elsewhere. For example, a Briton called David Bailey is launching a website that will help Brazilians order takeaway food online, a popular concept in the U.S. Similarly, Bailey’s namesake, David Neeleman, who founded JetBlue Airways in America, has set up the Brazilian low-cost airline Azul. Nonetheless, the benefits of this migration trend in Brazil have not been one-sided. The foreigners who have come to Brazil in recent times have found not just excellent employment opportunities and economic stability, but also a home in an extraordinarily multi-cultural and multi-racial environment. But above all, the typically friendly and fun-loving Brazilians, with their unique approach to life, have assimilated the expatriates completely into their society.

After all, if the tide has turned, it is best to go with the flow.

Image Credit: zizi…’s photo stream on Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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