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‘We’ve made a community’: Who are the Brazilians in Germany and where do they live?

Germany’s Brazilian community has almost doubled in the last 10 years. We look at which places in Germany have the biggest Brazilian contingents - and what brought some of them here.

'We've made a community': Who are the Brazilians in Germany and where do they live?
Jorge Aun, originally from Sao Paulo, finishes a race in Berlin. Since 2012, Aun has lived in Berlin, Magdeburg, and Wuppertal. Photo: Jorge Aun

You might have noticed more places to get Brazilian food or might be overhearing a bit more Portuguese in German streets than you used to.

Germany’s Brazilian community has grown especially fast in the last 10 years and numbered over 50,000 people at the end of last year. That’s up from about 34,000 in 2011 and around double the 25,000 or so Brazilians who were living in Germany 20 years ago – according to official German statistics.

Brazilians are found in sizeable numbers just about everywhere in Germany today, with the largest overall communities making their homes in Bavaria, North-Rhine Westphalia, and Baden-Württemberg. About 9,800 Brazilians live in Bavaria, compared to about 9,200 in North-Rhine Westphalia and around 8,200 in Baden-Württemberg.

Relative to its share of the population though, you’ll find Germany’s largest Brazilian community in Berlin. Around 7,200 Brazilians were living in the capital at the end of last year.

Eastern German states tend to have the lowest Brazilian population, with just 350 living in Saxony-Anhalt.

Similar to our recently featured Indians in Germany, the country’s Brazilians tend to be millennials, with the biggest chunk being between 25 and 44 years-old.

But unlike Germany’s Indian community, where men outnumber women by around two to one, or the country’s almost perfectly gender-balanced 18,000 Canadians – Germany’s Brazilian community leans female. Almost two-thirds of all Brazilians living in Germany are women.

READ ALSO: Indians in Germany: Who are they and where do they live?

Love, friendship, and career: Why Brazilians come to Germany

In 2005 Paula da Silva Lima was at a party in her hometown of Fortaleza in northeast Brazil when a German intern walked in.

“There were so many people around and she just suddenly appeared and looked at me. Love at first sight,” she recalls. “It all started with love.”

They lived together in Fortaleza together for a while but, eventually, after two years, the internship ended and Paula’s girlfriend had to return to Germany.

“We kept in touch for a while, but it got to the point where I had to drop everything to come and live with her in Germany,” she says. “I had a stable life in Brazil. But love spoke louder.”

da Silva didn’t find herself without company from home for long though. Around the same time, her friend Fred Almeida Bessa moved from Fortaleza to Berlin as well to be with his German partner.

“I’m so comfortable living here,” Almeida Bessa says. “Every time I come back from vacation and see Berlin’s TV Tower, I think to myself ‘I am home!’”

Six years later, their childhood friend Filipe Macedo – a Spanish-Brazilian who had been working for a major European airline in Madrid – had to choose a new city to work in when the company shut down its Madrid base.

“I didn’t hesitate to come to Berlin,” he says. “I had always been fascinated with the city and had friends living here for years, so it was a natural choice.”

Friends Filipe Macedo and Paula da Silva, both from Fortaleza in northeast Brazil, on vacation together in Spain. Both are long-term Berlin residents. Photo: Filipe Macedo

“We’ve made a little community here,” says da Silva. “We’re always together, take care of each other.”

READ ALSO: Who are Germany’s foreign population and where do they live?

For both Daphnee Iglesias and Jorge Aun, now 36 and 38-years-old respectively, living in Germany was originally meant to be temporary. Having both come here to study, they both ended up staying. Iglesias because of career opportunities and Aun because he fell in love with and married his German husband.

“I can be whoever I want, professionally or personally speaking,” says Iglesias, originally from Goiania, who now lives and works in Bonn at a humanitarian organisation. “Work-life balance is so good you can actually make a living without killing yourself in the process.”

Daphnee Iglesias, originally from Goiania, now calls Bonn home. Photo: Daphnee Iglesias

“My husband is obviously the main reason for me to stay, but I enjoy my life quality in Germany more than I did in Brazil,” says Aun, originally from Sao Paulo, whose schooling and private sector jobs in Germany have seen him take up residence in Wuppertal, Magdeburg, and Berlin during the decade he’s lived here.

Dancer and Movement Coach Leonardo Rodrigues, now 42 and originally from Salvador in northeast Brazil, had been living in Austria before moving to Germany to take advantage of a stronger professional network and higher salaries. Rodrigues has lived in Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Dresden, and Heidelberg, but will soon move to Mannheim.

Leonardo Rodrigues, originally from Salvador in northeast Brazil, has lived in Berlin, Cologne, Nuremberg, Dresden, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, and Mannheim during his almost 20 years here. Photo: Leonardo Rodrigues

“I definitely feel more socially included in Germany than I did in Austria,” says Rodrigues. “I’ve also been living in amazing cities, all very distinct from each other with beautiful monuments and amazing diversity.”

READ ALSO: Canadians in Germany: Who are they and where do they live?

The complex relationship with home

All the Brazilians we spoke to admit feeling serious trepidation around the recent elections that saw Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva squeak out a razor-thin victory over the incumbent far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

Iglesias says being physically far away has helped her manage the stress political disagreements sometimes put on the relationship she has with her family in Brazil. “Sadly being near or far doesn’t always make a difference,” she says. “The country is very polarised and people do not want to have constructive discussions or listen to each other. Even casting my vote here felt bittersweet. I can help my country by doing that but many of my countrymen have told me I shouldn’t care because I left.”

“I felt safer here,” admits Aun. “The debate on the streets or even in Brazilian workplaces got very toxic during this last election.”

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock meets new Brazilian President-Elect Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva in Egypt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

At the same time, like any of us who live away from where we grew up, there are things Brazilians in Germany miss about home too.

“The nature in Brazil, especially the Cerrado waterfalls. And food. I miss fruits that really taste like fruit,” says Iglesias.

“My family in Brazil is rather large! I miss my family’s parties, especially at Christmas,” says Almeida Bessa.

“I miss being able to look out at the sea every day,” says Rodrigues.

“I miss the heat,” says da Silva. “But technology has made communication with family a lot easier than it used to be. Now we have multiple ways to send messages, make calls, and videoconference. I speak with my family in Brazil almost every day.”

READ ALSO: Where in Germany do all the British citizens live?

Adapting to life in Germany

Da Silva says she likes “how many people are punctual and organised”.

“What I don’t like sometimes is how impolite people can be, especially in services,” adds da Silva. “The supermarket can be a gruff place, for example.”

For others, it’s about the German system. “The social security in Germany, says Macedo. “Yes, taxes are high but there’s an incredible return and amount of security you get from that. I also feel very safe here. Crime is obviously very high in Brazil.”

Fred Almeida Bessa has lived in Berlin since 2006. Photo: Fred Almeida Bessa

The biggest challenge for many though – is German itself.

“You verbalise things in German in a very different way than you do Portuguese, so that’s challenging,” says Almeida Bessa. “But I also like to discover and understand more about the language and some cultural attributes.”

READ ALSO: The seven stages of learning German every foreigner goes through

Are you a Brazilian in Germany? Tell us what you miss about your home country, and if you have any tips for Brazilian home comforts by emailing us: [email protected] or leaving a comment.

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IMMIGRATION

How ‘tolerated’ migrants could soon gain residency rights in Germany

The Bundestag has passed a law that will see people with a 'tolerated stay' gain a new path to permanent residency in Germany. Here's some background on the controversial law - and what it means for migrants.

How 'tolerated' migrants could soon gain residency rights in Germany

What’s going on?

After a fierce exchange of blows between politicians from the governing traffic-light coalition and the CDU/CSU parties, the Bundestag passed their so-called “right of opportunity to stay” (Chancel-Aufenthaltsrecht) law on Friday.

In the parliamentary vote, 371 MPs from the traffic-light coalition parties – the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FPD) – voted in favour of the bill. A total of 226 parliamentarians voted against, including 157 CDU/CSU MPs, 66 MPs from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and three independents. 

Politicians from the left-wing Linke party, as well as a number of CDU/CSU MPs and three FDP MPs, were among the 57 who abstained. 

The law aims to provide a new path to residency for people who had lived in Germany on a ‘tolerated stay’ permit for at least five years by October 31st, 2022. This group will now be given 18 months to fulfil the criteria for permanent residency, which includes proving at least B1 German language skills and showing that they can financially support themselves. 

However, people who have committed crimes or given false information about their identity won’t have the opportunity to apply for a residence permit.  

READ ALSO: How Germany is planning new path to residency for migrants

What exactly is a ‘tolerated stay’?

A tolerated stay permit, or Duldung, is granted to people who are theoretically barred from staying in Germany but are, in practice, unable to leave. That could be due to their health, caring duties, the situation in their home country or a lack of identification papers. 

It’s estimated that around 136,600 people have been living in the country on this status for at least five years, including people who have sought asylum but whose applications have been turned down. 

Germany has historically dealt with these tricky situations by suspending deportation and instead offering a ‘Duldung’, which allows the person in question to stay for the time being. 

More recently, special statuses for migrants who end up in vocational training or work have been added, enabling some migrants to enter training or employment while living on a tolerated stay permit. 

However, the situation for many has remained precarious. Since tolerated status is meant to be temporary, authorities often end up issuing multiple permits over time, causing stress and uncertainty for migrants and additional paperwork for the state. 

How will life change for this group of people? 

For those who speak a bit of German and have a secure livelihood, things could become a lot easier in future. 

Those who have been here at least five years will be given an 18-month permit which will give them time to switch from a tenuous tolerated status to official permanent residency. In addition, people aged 27 or under and particularly well-integrated adults will be given this opportunity after just three years of residence.

This in turn would allow them to take up work or training, become self-employed, start a business and also claim social benefits.

Most importantly, they will have the security of knowing that they are allowed to remain in the country as long as they want to and will be able to show an official residence permit to employers, landlords and public authorities.

Woman protests against deportation Germany

A woman holds up a ‘Stop Deportation’ sign at a protest outside Berlin-Brandenburg airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

What’s more, they should also have an easier time when trying to reunite with close family members. 

However, some people could still slip through the net. According to official statistics, 242,000 people currently live in Germany on a tolerated status – meaning than more than 100,000 won’t be covered by the new law. And this will also be the case for people who end up with a Duldung in the future. 

Even among those who have been here for five years or longer, one key condition for permanent residency – proving their identity – could remain a major hurdle. However, the law does offer people a chance to get around this if they have taken “necessary and reasonable measures” to clarify their identity.

READ ALSO: How to get fast-track permanent residency rights in Germany

What has the response been to the new law?

Unsurprisingly, the governing SDP – who drafted the law – have argued that their approach will finally give people a humane route to staying in Germany on a permanent basis.

“We are ending the current practice of chain toleration,” said Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD), referring to the practice of giving multiple tolerated status notices over time. “In doing so, we are also putting an end to the uncertainty that often lasts for years for people who have long since become part of our society.”

Adis Ahmetovic, who grew up as a child as a ‘tolerated’ migrant, spoke in the Bundestag of his own difficulties and said he had even faced deportation orders. “It clearly didn’t work, because now I’m an elected MP,” he said, adding that the right of opportunity law was a move towards “fairness, participation, recognition and respect”.

However, not everyone has been positive about the change, with the CDU and CSU parties in particular speaking out against it. Deputy parliamentary party leader Andrea Lindholz (CSU) told the government it would be better to focus “on those who are really entitled to protection”.

CDU Andrea Lindholz

CDU deputy parliamentary leader Andrea Lindholz speaks out against the “right of opportunity” law in the Bundestag. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

For well-integrated long-term tolerated migrants, there are already enough exceptions and pragmatic solutions, she added. 

Axel Ströhlein, president of the Bavarian State Office for Asylum and Repatriation, also criticised the fact that the path to residency would only apply to people who had already been deemed ineligible for asylum or protection from deportation. He said the new regulation would undermine the meaning and purpose of the right to asylum and could send the signal that a lack of cooperation is worthwhile and leads to a residence title.

Others, however, welcomed the change but said it didn’t go far enough.

Kristian Garthus-Niegel of the Saxon Refugee Council had spoken out in support of the Linke’s proposed amendment to effectively end the ‘tolerated’ status by removing the cut-off date for long-term residence specified in the law. This amendment was rejected in the Bundestag. 

READ ALSO: ‘Dangerous and wrong’: Why German MPs are clashing over citizenship plans

Are there any other important changes to know about? 

Yes. Skilled workers who come to Germany will also have an easier time bringing their family over in future as the government has permanently waived language requirements for spouses of highly qualified workers. 

In addition, they want to make language and integration courses far more widely available and speed up the process of applying for asylum in future. 

People who have committed crimes or who are considered dangerous, on the other hand, will be removed from the country more easily and swiftly. 

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