The 2018 elections took their toll on many Brazilians. Political polarization and a sheer fear of a Jair Bolsonaro government have seen several citizens seek “escape routes” from their country of origin. Internet searches for terms related to migration have sharply increased, while official consulates and third-party consultants have seen a boom in the demand for their services.
Preferred destinations include the United States, Canada, Uruguay, and—of course— Portugal, whose consulate in São Paulo was forced to temporarily suspend all naturalization requests in mid-October due to a huge backlog.
The chart above maps the popularity of search engine terms related to migration from Brazil, specifically to the U.S., Uruguay, Canada, and Portugal, over the last three months. We can see that on the days of each round of this year’s elections (October 7 and 28), figures peaked for Brazilians searching for potential immigration destinations, particularly Portugal and Uruguay.
Mariana Chagas, a regulated immigration consultant at Liason Canada, says she has personally noticed a significant difference in the number of Brazilians getting in touch with her firm and looking for ways to move abroad. “In the last two months, it has doubled at least,” she told The Brazilian Report. “I’m getting around 10 to 15 inquiries a day from people asking me, straight to the point, how they can leave Brazil and move to Canada.”
According to Ms. Chagas, the most recurring justifications she hears for Brazilians looking to move abroad are connected to violence and the economy, crucial themes in this year’s presidential election. “These people are afraid of leaving their homes due to violence, they don’t feel safe anymore,” she says. “They want their kids to grow up somewhere safe.”
Rosane Rodrigues, education consultant and the only Brazilian among the official ambassadors in Montreal, mentions the political crisis as one of the main driving factors. “I’ve lost count of the number of people who have come to ask me for advice to study in Canada,” she told The Brazilian Report. “Many of them are human rights activists who feel threatened,” Ms. Rodrigues explains, in reference to President-elect Jair Bolsonaro’s public disregard for such causes.
Not only the elections to blame
However, despite the recent jump, the charts below show us that this is not an isolated election-related flight. Instead it is part of a more durable trend of Brazilians leaving their country of birth. In May of this year, statistics agency Datafolha released an opinion poll showing that around 70 million Brazilians aged 16 or over would leave the country if they were able to, which adds up to 43 percent of the entire adult population. We can see from the search trend analysis below that Brazilian interest in living abroad has increased continuously since 2012.
Between 2011 and 2017, the Internal Revenue Service registered a 165-percent increase of people submitting so-called “definitive exit” forms (a document in which a person declares they intend to hold a fixed residence outside of Brazil and no longer have any income in the country), with the absolute figure having risen from 8,170 to 21,701.
The number of Brazilians submitting definitive exit forms is infinitely lower than the actual number of those leaving the country, as the measurement does not include children, those living abroad for extended periods of time while maintaining residency in Brazil, and illegal Brazilian immigrants in other countries around the world.
Speaking to the Brazilian press at the time of May’s Datafolha survey, Flavio Comim, an economics professor at Universitat Ramon Llull, in Barcelona, said the high number of people wanting to leave Brazil was a sign of “success and failure.”
Success, because it is now so much easier to move abroad with the wealth of information available for free online. Failure, because according to Mr. Comim, the Brazilian boom of 2010 created expectations that could not be maintained over the long-term. “It hit hard when we realized the country wasn’t doing nearly as well as people said,” he explained.