By Nelson A. King

The Brazilian government said on Jan. 25 said it was granting visas to hundreds of Haitians seeking employment.

The Brazilian National Immigration Council said it has begun a program to not only grant visas to Haitians who have already crossed Brazil’s borders illegally but also to permit about 100 Haitians per month to enter Brazil to work legally.

The Council said it will issue 1,200 permanent visas annually, at its embassy in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, to earthquake-ravaged Haitians.

Paulo Sérgio de Almeida, president of Brazil’s National Immigration Council, said the special work program will permit Haitians to remain in Brazil for five years.

In addition, he said the program does not require participants to show proof of education and labor skills nor that a job is waiting for them.

De Almeida, however, said if the Haitians want to remain in Brazil permanently, they will be required to show proof of employment before the end of the five-year period.

Antonio Patriota, Brazil’s minister of foreign relations, said he hopes the Haitian government will “start to improve job conditions for the Haitian population.

“As Haiti establishes a pattern of sustainable development and economic growth, Haitians will no longer feel the need to seek out a better life abroad,” he said.

Brazil has the largest contingent of U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti, and was one of the first donors to contribute to Haiti’s earthquake reconstruction fund.

“Brazil, as an emerging power, has made Haiti one of its critical countries where it is trying to make a major difference,” said Lionel Delatour, a Haiti-based consultant who has sought to attract Brazilian garment and textiles investments to Haiti.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is expected to make her first official visit to the French-speaking Caribbean country on Feb. 1.

Brazilian officials said they are in dire need of workers as the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games here approach.

Officials said unemployment is at historic lows, adding that labor shortages have increased around the country.

Meantime, Brazil authorities said they have granted a tourist visa to Yoani Sánchez, a dissident Cuban author and blogger.

The visa comes ahead of a visit this month to the Spanish-speaking Caribbean country by Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff.

Sánchez, 36, who appealed personally to President Rousseff for the visa, said she plans to screen a documentary in Brazil.