Global Immigration Series - Doing Business in Brazil: Navigating Complex Immigration Laws
Visas and Work Permits
In contrast to Mexico’s relatively flexible immigration laws that we discussed last month, Brazil’s immigration laws are much more complicated and so require more advance planning from HR and Global Mobility Managers. Most importantly – in terms of timing – the majority of people require visas before traveling to Brazil. Citizens of nearly two-thirds of the countries in the world, including the United States, require visas to enter Brazil, whether for business or work. Because of the World Cup, Brazilian Consulates have been focused on issuing World Cup and tourist visas to ensure soccer fans can make it to the games. Increased visa applications combined with intermittent labor strikes have considerably slowed visa processing times. For example, the Brazilian Consulate in Miami is taking 45 days to issue a business visa. Work permit applications, which are processed by the Ministry of Labor, are taking at least 12 weeks.
The first step in planning an employee’s business trip to Brazil is to determine whether the employee’s activities qualify as business or work. In recent years, Brazilian authorities have sought to clarify the difference between business and work. Unfortunately, Brazilian legislation does not give a definition of “business” and so employers should contact immigration counsel before deciding whether to apply for a business or work visa. Based on past practices of Brazilian authorities, the following activities generally qualify for a temporary business visa: making business contacts, holding interviews, negotiating sales and deals, and attending or speaking at seminars. It is important to note that an employee working in a technical area likely will not be permitted to enter Brazil on a business visa for training or knowledge sharing purposes. These activities are more appropriate for a work visa. In addition, temporary business visitors may not receive remuneration while in Brazil.
As explained above, most people must obtain a visa at a Brazilian Consulate before traveling to Brazil for business. The United States has nine Brazilian Consulates in addition to its Embassy in Washington, DC. The Embassy and Consulates have jurisdictional requirements and each has its own unique visa application practices, procedures and processing times.
Notably, citizens of many Western European countries, including France, the United Kingdom and Germany, may travel to Brazil for business without having to obtain visas. Those non-US citizens residing in the United States on a U.S. work visa who do need a visa to travel to Brazil are normally able to apply for a Brazilian visa in the United States, but it is important to confirm this with the Brazilian Consulate before applying. The duration of the temporary business visa depends on the nationality of the applicant, but individual visits are limited to 90 days. A business traveler may not visit Brazil for more than 180 days in any 12-month period.
Stealth Business Travel
As we have discussed in our previous posts, HR and global mobility managers should take care regarding stealth business travelers or employees who travel to foreign countries to conduct “business” without an employer’s authorization. While most employees will require visas to travel to Brazil, which makes stealth business travel more difficult, those employees who have ten-year tourist visas to Brazil – perhaps obtained to attend the World Cup this month - may think there would be no harm in conducting some business while taking in the games or on a subsequent trip to Brazil. Please note that an employee entering Brazil on a tourist visa with the intent of doing business risks being denied entry into Brazil. The risk for stealth business travel may be greater with your Western European employees who do not need visas to travel to Brazil for business, but do need visas to work in Brazil.
The Ministry of Labor in Brazil frequently conducts worksite compliance actions. It is important to keep track of what your employees will be doing in Brazil so you can confirm with immigration counsel that their activities are permissible for a business visitor.