As dollar rises, Brazilians send more cash home, delay return

Liz Mineo

Like many Brazilian immigrants who send money home, Alex Vidal pays close attention to the exchange rate between the dollar and Brazil's currency, for it is one of the main reasons why Brazilians decide to stay here or go home.

Many Brazilians come here to work in hopes of saving enough money to secure a life back home. Vidal, 27, of Framingham, had decided to go back home with less than he had anticipated due to a worsening exchange rate.

In 2003, when he came here, the rate was $3 real (Brazil's currency) for every dollar, and in August, when he thought it was better to leave for good, the exchange rate was $1.5 real for every dollar.

But after the dollar's value went up in Brazil this past week, a result of the worldwide financial crisis that pushed its price up, Vidal decided to stay.

When the markets closed on Friday, the exchange rate was $2.3 real for every dollar.

"I'm not going back now," said Vidal, 27, who works in construction. "I'll stay one or two more years, but I may change my mind depending on what happens. I know two friends of mine who have canceled their trips back home because the dollar went up."

The unexpected rise in the dollar's price, and hence, the real losing its value, is a surprising effect of the financial crisis in the United States, said Brazilian news reports.

Scared by Brazil's stock market plunge, foreign investors have pulled their dollars out of the South American country pushing their price up by leaving fewer dollars in the market, reports said.

It's a situation that can only benefit Brazilian immigrants here, said Alvaro Lima, a Brazilian economist who works with the Boston Redevelopment Authority. But its effects could be short-term, he said.

"If you're here and you send money home, it's good for you and your family," he said. "People down there can buy more with the reals they get, but nobody knows how long that's going to last. It can only be temporary and, in the long run, a worldwide recession is not good for anybody."

News of the dollar's rise spread like wildfire this week.

In Milford, Daniela Abrantes, who works at Luso Brasil Imports, a multi-service store, has seen more customers making money wire transfers to Brazil.

"There are more people sending money now," she said.

In Marlborough, Luis Ventura has noticed the same at his money-transfer and cell phone store on Main Street.

"Brazilians tend to wait until they get as much as they can for every single dollar," he said.

The dollar's recovery might reverse the growing trend of Brazilians going home, which began last year as immigration crackdowns increased as well as anti-illegal immigrant sentiment and demands from employees to produce working papers.

The worsening exchange rate between the dollar and the real also drove many Brazilians home. Back in those days, their families could buy less in Brazil with dollars earned here, and for many immigrants, it wasn't worth the risk.

"Six months ago, the story was that people were going home," said Lima. "We may be seeing the beginning of a different story."

Fausto Da Rocha, director of Allston's Brazilian Immigrant Center, estimates that between 5,000 and 7,000 Brazilians left Massachusetts last year and another 10,000 will leave by the end of the year. He thinks the dollar's comeback may not last while the reasons behind the exodus of Brazilian immigrants from Massachusetts are still strong.

"People are having a harder time finding jobs and saving money," said Da Rocha. "With the recession here, there are fewer jobs. Gas prices are up and everything is more expensive. They're spending more and not saving enough."

As for Vidal, he plans to stay at least for a while. Though Brazil's economy is growing at more than 5 percent a year, he believes there are more opportunities here, despite the financial turmoil and the threats of recession.

Said he, "I have friends who left and are trying to come back."

Liz Mineo can be reached at 508-626-3825 or

The MetroWest Daily News