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Brazilians in America: a new wave

Brazil is one of the largest countries in the world — with a full and vivid democracy, a diverse geography and population, a passion for coffee, a past of colonization by Europeans and a long-standing tradition of welcoming immigrants from all parts of the planet.

The sentence above can easily describe the United States, but it’s also a perfect description of Brazil. Not by accident, these two nations have enduring similarities, whether it is political, historical or cultural.

In the past ten years, due to a series of political crises, more and more Brazilians started looking to migrate to America, following the dream of a better life. Data from the Department of Homeland Security shows that in the fiscal year of 2019, almost 20,000 green cards were issued to Brazilian nationals. An all-time high. In 2021, there were 18,000 green cards issued: the second-highest number since DHS started counting.

When you ask Brazilians why they are coming to the US, the answers don’t vary from those given by other immigrants: they want a safer place to live and a well-paying job – two things that have been scarce in their home country. When you take into consideration that one dollar is equal to five reais, the possibility of having a salary in US currency is another selling point.

But the thing is: there’s more to it than just the increasing number of Brazilians seeking permanent residency in the United States nowadays. They are also very different from those who came in the 1990s.

The past two decades saw an unprecedented expansion of higher education in Brazil, something that was almost exclusive to a political and economic elite. If, in 2000, Brazil had 2.7 million students attending a graduation course, that amount rose to 8.6 million in 2019, according to official federal data.

Consequently, this changed the Brazilian immigrant moving to the US. If they were basically coming to occupy low-paying unskilled jobs, it’s common now to see Brazilians – those who graduated from university in the past 20 years – working as dentists, physicians, bankers, developers, managers and so on.

Brazil is one of five countries that have the most Employment-Based (EB) visas issued. It’s also one of the top nations with the most H-1B issuances. Pick your visa, and for certain, Brazil will be placed high in the ranking.

According to Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there are 1.8 million nationals living in the US, which makes them the biggest Brazilian community abroad, away ahead of Portugal, which ranks second. And note that Brazil was colonized by Portugal and, therefore, they both speak the same language.

When you look at the US Census, there are 499,000 Brazilians living in the US. Much less than reported by the South American government, but yet a considerable number. And the numbers will rise.

One poll by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation shows that 47% of young people (15-29 years-old) want to leave Brazil. In another poll by Datafolha, the number increases to 76% – considering those with some or a lot of desire to leave Brazil.

And naturally, due to all that has been presented, the US is the first choice for most of them.

So we should expect an increase in Brazilian expats coming to the United States in the coming years, especially if the Brazilian economy fails to grow. More than that, it is likely Brazilians will become one of the top foreign communities in America, making the ties between both countries even stronger.

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