Brazil 1, USA 1 – Tit for Tat Visa Treatment

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Brazil Flag - Order & ProgressI recently experienced first hand the consequences of bad diplomatic blood between the USA and Brazil. It’s a case of fingerprinting turned into finger-pointing…gone wrong. In short, the Brazilian Consulate did everything it could to delay my visa which mean that, ultimately, I received my visa too late and never went.

The treatment was not personal, I understand. It was clearly just a case of my being an American and, as seems so often the case overseas, that is not a positive attribute. In the case of Brazil, my treatment by the Consulate in Paris was the result of a retaliatory policy. Essentially, in 2004, the US began fingerprinting and photographing all but 27 [mostly European] countries when they enter the country. Brazil immediately responded with a tit-for-tat procedure (BBC & NYT article) that singled out Americans. Beyond fingerprinting, both ways, it is also a lengthy and costly affair for visitors to get visas.

The Visa Saga.

I was supposed to go to Brazil for a meeting to make three speeches and, as I was not going to conduct any business deals, I only needed a tourist visa. Since I was going to be away for a fortnight in the weeks leading up to my trip to Brazil, and knowing that getting a visa to Brazil for an American was a challenge, I went to the trouble of asking for a “special” second US passport [which took about a month] to allow for the visa application to be be started earlier and without my presence. The agency handling the visa application for me said that it should take four days. Having filed the papers two weeks in advance, that seemed quite safe. However, eight days later (the Tuesday before the Friday night departure), I found out that the Brazilian consulate wanted more papers. Clearly, the agency handling the visa could have been more on the ball. Anyway, I scurried around to get the demanded papers in on the Wednesday and was promptly told that the visa would take a further eight days. This meant that I would receive the visa the day after I was to leave Brazil. Not quite an exit visa I was looking for.

I made a few calls to try some “diplomatic” sweet-talking. “I realize the situation in the US is horrible…so sorry about the treatment of Brazilians…, etc.” On the Thursday–the day before I was to leave–a person from the Consulate called me up and told me to write an email immediately to the Brazilian Consul explaining the importance and timing of my trip. Taking extra precaution, I chose to fax the same message to the Consul. A few more calls and emails later, nothing. I was told that the visa would come when it came. In effect, I was grounded. My Friday deadline came and went and I stayed in Paris.

The following week, in a twist of irony, I did receive an automated email from the Brazilian Consulate in Paris saying that their email system had been down for ten days and that emails would be treated as soon as possible. Of course, that meant that at the time the Consulate personnel told me to write the email, the server was already down. I sadly thought how smart I was to have also sent a fax.

The real salt in the wound is that when they finally returned the passport, with a visa in it, the visa had been put and dated three days before I was to leave. In other words, they just chose to hang on to my passport. All told, including the second passport application, the whole process took seven weeks. And to no avail, much extra work and heartache.

USA Map in YellowAside from the troubles this caused my partners on the other side of the ocean, I regret the nature of the relationship Brazil and many other countries have with the US (which doesn’t have to be just a country of blues and reds). And I regret not visiting again the land of the Cariocas. I don’t believe there are any easy solutions. Dogma has its price. So, too, does terrorism. It’s farcical when a feeble grandmother gets stripped searched at the security check point. And, visa blocking treatment like I received certainly doesn’t do anything to help the world overcome terrorism any faster. The intentional delays [rejection] of my visa application will do absolutely nothing. It’s quite the lose-lose.

I have read a lot of “heavy traffic” in the blogosphere on the topic. One comment (below) seems to wrap up the Brazilian perspective neatly:

This is diplomatic “pay-back” at work
. The American consulates in Brazil are probably the most hideous and inefficient foreign government representation we have here. I am talking not only about no mail submission, I am talking about 4-6 hours in a line to apply for an interview and then more hours in another line and a standing interview. So, we are just doing unto others as they do unto us. I wouldn’t know how early you should arrive, but unless you have very prominent issues there is no chance your visa will be refused. I think we don’t even maintain a “no-entry” list, except for known international criminals.

Here is the story of an US citizen and academic: Esperanto-USA. He points out that only 20 Americans will be handled per day at the Brazilian Consulate — in reciprocity to the US policy.

Other stories of hoops and hassles getting a Brazilian visa for US citizens: Traveladvice.

And a very dignified response from Bruna:
“Ok, I can see how annoying it is to get a visa to Brazil… Could you imagine how it was for me, a brazilian citizen, to get one to visit your country? We have to prove we have no intention of staying there illegaly, as if everybody was crazy to live in USA. It’s humiliating. I had to collect all kinds of financial informations about my life to show I could stay there with my own money and had to prove I had strong reasons to come back home (such as a job or a house in my name). I’m sorry about your problems with brazilian visa, but USA seems to be the country that choses who is interesting to have there as a tourist.”

All told, such treatment will make Brazilians visiting Americans and vice-versa less likely. Certainly, this reciprocal treatment will not reduce terrorism. I wonder what the total [opportunity] cost this means to the respective economies. Non-productive energies, non value-added expenses (visa charges), diminution of international interchange… An expensive price to pay by any measure.

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