Haiti’s massive earthquake in 2010 forced an evacuation of many of the island’s residents to seek a better life abroad, where those able to work could find jobs in more stable economies. Thousands of Haitians settled in Brazil, where migrants searching for relief were welcomed.
But visas and plane tickets cost some their life savings, and even though identification documents and labor permits were easily obtained due to the country’s relaxed policies, the promise of work faded after Brazil’s economy took a severe downturn.
F. S., who attends sessions with AFSC’s American Friends Immigrant Services program, was able to find a job quickly but later had to work multiple extremely low-paying positions in order to meet inflated rent. “Every day, I had two jobs from 6:00 AM to midnight during my last 16 months in Brazil,” explains F. S. “My goal was to save enough money and organize my trip to [the] United States ... I worked 50 hours weekly at a wage of U.S. $1.25 per hour.”
F. S. is one of thousands from Haiti who were forced to consider the option of migrating once again to another country. Now about 35% of Haitians who moved to Brazil have left, and roughly 7,000 of them have made their way to the U.S.
Many others head to Chile, or Costa Rica, but face similar economic hardship—lack of work, or predatory employers where work exists.
After three years in Brazil, F. S. was able to enter the U.S. via California in 2016 to mixed treatment by immigration offices—which according to him varies greatly from city to city. Attitudes toward refugees can shift between check-points and between of officials. Each migrant’s experience is unique.
Of their stories, AFIS Haitian community social advocate Paul-Andre Mondesir claims, “Each one of them could write a New York Times bestseller book.”
In the wake of increased migration from Brazil, AFIS continues to assist Haitian migrants moving into Florida communities by addressing educational needs related to citizenship and workers’ rights.