Haitian Migration to Brazil: An Overview of Contributing Factors, Part One

By Alexandra Smith

Over the course of the past ten years there has been a significant increase in the number of Haitian immigrants seeking asylum in South America as well as the United States from Haiti. At a glance, these two developments seem to be unrelated within the scope of Central and Southern American migration, but their connection lies within shifts of migration policy by Brazil following the earthquake of 2010, as well as in a complicated nexus of socio-political and economic changes within the country in the following years.

The earthquake in Haiti of January 12, 2010, with a magnitude of 7.0, caused over 300,000 deaths, displaced more than one million people, caused 7-8 billion dollars in damage, and damaged nearly half of all structures in the “epicentral area” (1). These outcomes had a devastating effect on Haiti, it’s economy, infrastructure, and it’s people. One of the ways in which the international community attempted to aid Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake(outside of disaster relief teams and economic contributions), was to make changes in refugee and immigration policies. Brazil was one of these counties. In 2013, several years following the earthquake, the number of refugee applications to Brazil from Haiti increased by 600%, and due to this increase, Brazil instituted a new policy in order to accept the increasing number of Haitian applicants (2). The Brazilian embassy in Haiti began to authorize up to 2000 visas per month, a policy that as of 2019, is still in effect. The result of this change in the number of visas granted to Haitians meant that by 2017, there were over 50,000 Haitians living and working in Brazil (3). It is important to note that other South American countries also expanded their approval of visas to Haitians, especially Venezuela, which also became a destination for Haitian refugees and workers.

Economic and labor markets also contributed to the acceptance of Haitian workers to Brazil. In the decade following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Brazil hosted several international sporting events. In order to build stadiums for these contests, Brazil actively encouraged migration into the country, hoping to supplement their domestic labor force with migrant workers. Stories of economic opportunity made their way back to Haiti, which resulted in the continued application for visas through the embassy, but also an uptick in the number of illegal immigrants being smuggled into Brazil, who were then given “Humanitarian visas” by the Brazilian government with the embassy vice-consul stating, “They’re already there, half a world away, and Brazil wouldn’t deny them” (4).

Regardless of whether or not the policy of granting humanitarian visas was for humanitarian reasons, economic ones, or simply because Brazil was in the international public eye as the leader of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, the number of Haitians increased exponentially in the years following the earthquake in 2010. These trends largely explain the reasons behind the significant number of Haitians in Brazil, but the question remains why there are a significant numbers of Haitians recently showing up on the US-Mexican Border.

1 Reginald DesRoches, Mary Comerio, Marc Eberhard, Walter Mooney, and Glenn J. Rix, “Overview of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake.” Earthquake Spectra 27, no. 1_suppl1 (October 2011): 1–21.

2 The State of Environmental Migration 2014: A Review of 2013, eds. François Gemenne, Pauline Brücker, and Dina Ionesco (Paris: IOM and Sciences Po, 2014).

3 Kyilah Terry, “New Hatian migration patterns end in displacement,” published by UCLA Center For India and South Asia and UCLA International Institute, April 17, 2019, https://www.international.ucla.edu/cisa/article/202365

4 Emily Gogolak, “Hatian Migrants Turn Toward Brazil,” The New Yorker, August 20, 2014 https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/haitian-migrants-turn-toward-brazil

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