Brazilians in America: A New Wave

One of the largest countries in the world, with a full and vivid democracy, a diverse geography and population, a passion for coffee, 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, those two nations have enduring similarities, whether it is political, historical or cultural.

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In the past ten years, due to a series of political crises, more Brazilians started looking to migrate to America, following the dream of a better life. Data from the US 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 lately. When you take into consideration that one dollar is equal to five reals, the possibility of having a salary in US currency is another selling point.

But 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.

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The past two decades saw an unprecedented expansion of higher education in Brazil, something that was almost exclusive to the 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 fundamentally changed the profile of the Brazilian immigrant moving to the US. Previously, those coming to the US sought low-paying unskilled jobs. Now, it’s common to see more professional Brazilians – those who graduated from university in the past 20 years – working as dentists, physicians, bankers, TI analysts, nurses, commercial pilots, biologists, environment scientists, marketing specialists, developers and c-suite executives in the United States.

Brazilian dentists, for example, are amongst the best in the world – and they are revalidating the diploma in the US like never before, benefiting from the labor shortage in their area of expertise.

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

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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 ahead of Portugal, which ranks second.

The US Census shows there are 499,000 Brazilians living in the US. That figure is far smaller than reported by the South American government, yet still a considerably important and significant number. And this population will continue to rise, given how access to universities is still growing. Also, due to an ever-increasing expansion of social media and our lives, Brazilians can practically watch in real time via Instagram, YouTube or TikTok how their countryman are thriving in America.

One poll by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation, a Brazilian think-thank, shows that 47% of young people (15-29 years-old) want to leave Brazil. In another poll by pollsters 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.

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 and more resilient.

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