Among the ideas under consideration are broadening the types of work visas, extending work visas to family members of foreign workers so they too can hold jobs in Brazil, making the application procedure less costly and more friendly, and allowing foreign workers "conditional" visas while an investigation to show there are no comparable Brazilian workers available is pending.
Brazil has already begun to eliminate some of the red tape needed to get a work visa by allowing the digital submission of some materials.
Paes de Barros said he'd also like to see the National Congress pass a resolution encouraging migration and a law creating an agency or commission with a stated goal of increasing migration.
"The details are still being worked out," he said. A working group of government agencies and universities met monthly last year to review immigration policy and come up with suggestions on how to improve it in coming decades, not just in response to the country's record-low unemployment.
What Brazil needs now are engineers -- especially chemical, mining and electrical engineers, and doctors, architects and technical workers, said Sacconato. What it doesn't need are more lawyers and people with degrees in social sciences, he said.
"The developed world needs to export professionals," he said. "Young people that have just graduated need work."
Especially acute is the shortage of engineers needed not only in Brazil's mining, and oil and gas industries but also for large-scale road, infrastructure and communications projects.
Brazilian universities are currently graduating 40,000 engineers annually but there is a need for 60,000 new engineers each year, said Sacconato.
While representatives from the oil and gas industry say they've found it relatively easy to get visas for skilled professionals, workers from other sectors report more difficulties.
An English environmental consultant, for example, worked under the table while trying to obtain a visa. "The job went really well but the problem was getting the visa," said the worker who asked that neither his name nor the company where he worked be revealed because of his illegal status.
He gave up his visa quest in frustration after spending what he called "a huge amount of money" on notarizing documents and flights to England to try to secure a visa and returned home after paying a fine for overstaying his old visa.
He said his employer hired him because of his fluency in English and knowledge of a green building certification currently used in Great Britain.
Brazilian authorities turned down his application, the worker said, because they determined he didn't have enough professional experience. "It was overly protectionist," he said. "I was working for a small start-up in an industry that is growing and very necessary."
But Rosangela Gomes, vice president of G-COMEX, a Rio de Janeiro-based company that recruits labor for the oil and gas industry, said as long as a foreign worker meets the criteria set by a potential employer, it generally takes only about a month to secure a visa.
"The oil companies generally are very demanding. They don't approve candidates who don't have the right profile," she said.
"Since 2006, with the discovery of the pre-salt (offshore, deep-water oil finds), there was a lot of interest from the government to attract investors to Brazil," said Mariangela Moreira, director and founder of Mundivisas, an immigration consultancy in Niteroi, a city across Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro.
The government, she said, realized it needed to have clearer rules on immigration so investors would feel more secure about sinking their money into Brazil. "The interest of the Dilma government is really to update this as quickly as possible," said Moreira. "I think (the government) is very much in favor of giving visas."
Last year Brazil gave 73,022 visas to foreign workers -- but just 8,340 of them were permanent visas. Still that was well ahead of the 42,914 visas granted as recently as 2009. The number of visas granted to professionals also is up dramatically since 2009.
U.S. residents received the most work visas -- 9,209, followed by workers from the Philippines, Haiti, the United Kingdom, India, Germany, China and Italy.
The Ministry of Labor noted that the 4,706 visas for Haitians were humanitarian-based due to disruptions caused by the 2010 earthquake and didn't reflect a long-term trend. Last year, thousands of Haitians who crossed the border from Peru after a complicated trip from their homeland began crowding into small towns in the Brazilian Amazon.
Despite the increasing numbers of work visas being granted, "it's still a very small flow of people," conceded Paes de Barros. "We need millions of people."
(Taylor Barnes contributed to this report from Rio de Janeiro.)
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