A few weeks ago, the United States and Brazil announced that they had both extended the duration of tourist visas to 10 years, meaning that tourist visas for both Americans and Brazilians will now last an entire decade, rather than just five years. Both countries also eliminated extra fees for business travel, student visas, and exchange program visas, but they will both continue to charge steep visa fees. (Though the US charges these fees for most foreigners, Brazil charges the high fees for tourist visas for Americans in an act of "reciprocity.") While I'd like to think there were diplomatic or good will motives involved in the visa extensions, it was likely due to logistics and efficiency: in 2009, US consulates in Brazil emitted over 506,000 visas, and from January to April of 2010, they emitted over 171,000 visas.
So this all sounds swell, right? Well, it's a minimal step toward bilateral relations, considering the horror stories that don't make the headlines, like the stories of exiled Americans whose spouses have been deported or temporarily banned from the country due to visa issues. But two stories did make headlines, and they are telling.
At the beginning of the month, American director Oliver Stone flew to Brazil to promote his new documentary and to meet with Brazilian leaders. Somehow, though, he was unaware that Americans need visas to enter Brazil, and despite US airport regulations to check visas for us regular folk, he managed to get on a plane and arrive in São Paulo with no visa whatsoever. Instead of being turned around and sent back to the US, he spent a mere 3 hours at customs and was admitted to the country. He was given an "emergency" temporary visa valid for eight days. Then, to top it off, he was met with open arms by the Brazilian government, and had a meeting with Dilma Rousseff, who he chatted with behind closed doors during his brief promotional tour in Brazil.
Fast forward to this week, when legendary Brazilian singer João Gilberto had to cancel his show at Carnegie Hall, a part of the CareFusion Jazz Festival. The reason? His US visa was expired, but on Monday he got an emergency appointment at the US consulate, where he handed in his paperwork and did the mandatory interview. His visa was then approved. But then, despite going through the necessary steps, he did not manage to get the visa in time and didn't travel to New York. The details are unclear, though it appears the visa wasn't printed in time. The visa debacle forced producers to cancel the show at the last minute. One of the producers said he was "heartbroken" that the singer, "one of the most important of our generation," was unable to perform.
So much for reciprocity.