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Red-hot Brazilian economy running afoul of paperwork

While Brazilian businesses want to soar, the bureaucracy is maddeningly Third World.

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Every evening after the federal police headquarters in Sao Paulo closes, immigrants and foreign professionals begin to line up along the street where they will remain, huddled under blankets, until the building reopens in the morning.

Since there is only one official to receive documents and only 100 people are attended to on a first-come-first-served basis each day, applicants have to wait in the cold all night to try to register as temporary residents, a process required by the Brazilian authorities. 

Getting registered is so difficult that businesses often pay R$120 (or more than $70 U.S. dollars) an hour to have companies handle the process for their foreign employees. They pay even more — up to R$5,000 (almost $3,000) — to get professional assistance applying for a business or work visa, which can be complicated and time-consuming.

“Every type of process has strict requirements based on what the worker will do, how long the worker will be here, who they will get paid by,” said Daniela Lima, a lawyer at EMDOC, a company with more than 200 employees and six offices in Brazil to help businesses navigate the country’s bureaucracy.

“The whole thing is very difficult for someone who is not specialized in the area,” said Lima. It is not simply a question of speaking Portuguese, it’s a question of understanding the laws and carrying out all the necessary steps.”

Brazilian bureaucracy affects nearly all aspects of life, requiring investments in time and money that are costly for workers and inhibit businesses eager to invest in the country’s growing economy, according to studies by international and local financial institutions.

Starting a business in Brazil takes an average of 16 processes and 120 days, according to a study by the World Bank on doing business in Brazil in 2010. 

That’s nearly twice as long as the average for the rest of Latin America and 20 times the average time it takes in the United States, the study reported.

“The problem is that you need permits for everything and sometimes you have to go to four different places just to get one process,” said Eva Rodrigues Dos Santos. Dos Santos lived in Nigeria and Mexico for years before opening an import and export business in Brazil. 

“While people from China and Japan, Europe and America are making money, Brazilians are busy trying to get stamps on pieces of paper, Santos said.