Brazil World Cup Seeks Haitian Migrants Amid Worker Shortage

A company building one of the 12 stadiums for next year’s soccer World Cup in Brazil is recruiting Haitian workers after falling months behind schedule.

Construction firm Mendes Junior has brought in more than 100 workers from the Caribbean country to help complete the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, according to Mauricio Guimaraes, special secretary for the World Cup for the state of Mato Grosso. Even with the additional assistance, the stadium, where seats have yet to be installed and work on the roof remains unfinished, will miss a Dec. 31 deadline by at least two months, Guimaraes said.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas, and was devastated by an earthquake in 2010, which claimed thousands of lives and displaced more than 1 million. Cuiaba, in central Brazil, is one of several cities in the country that have faced labor shortages as growth in other sectors, and the scale of infrastructure work, has led to a shortage of manual workers. Plans for the 570.1 million-reais ($244 million) stadium were altered as a result of the worker shortage, with designers opting for prefabricated pieces.

James Berson, 21, was alerted to the work in Brazil by a friend, and is in charge of the Haitian group, which is a mix of men and women. He said most of the Haitian workers were recruited via a Catholic mission in Cuiaba.


“It’s very easy for them to find a job here,” Berson said in an interview in a suite at the stadium. “The engineering company called them, and said just come here to work.”

Mendes Junior provides lodging for most of the workers, who sleep eight to a room, according to Berson. Haitians are also helping build stadiums in the southern city of Curitiba and in the Amazon capital, Manaus.

The stadium will host games involving Bosnia, Nigeria, Japan, South Korea, Russia and Colombia, with Chile meeting Australia in the facility’s opening match on June 13.

The average salary is about $400 a month, according to Berson, who moved to the Dominican Republic with his family following a violent coup in Haiti in 2004. The minimum wage in Brazil is 689 reais a month.

Brazil has provided humanitarian visas to thousands of Haitians who come across the border, according to the government. The number has swelled to 4,658 last year from 125 in 2009. In some places, the influx is overwhelming the local infrastructure.


Earlier this year the northern state of Acre in the Amazonas region declared a state of emergency following a surge of illegal immigrants, mainly Haitians, from neighboring Bolivia. A shelter built for 200 people regularly houses 1,000, according to local officials. Haitians, like other migrant workers in Brazil, can apply for permanent residency after four years.

Berson traveled to Brazil by plane. Many of his co-workers faced far more arduous journeys over land, he said, explaining the average cost of swapping Haiti for Brazil is $3,000. The usual route means traveling through the Dominican Republic, Panama, Peru and Colombia, before disembarking in Brazil at Tabatinga in Amazonas, according to FIFA, soccer’s governing body.

The labor shortage has led to other ways of building up the 1,600-member workforce at the stadium. Ex-prisoners and men and women rescued from slave-labor type conditions have also been added to the pool as part of state-sponsored programs, according to the local government. Brazil’s government in 2003 expanded the definition of slavery, which was officially abolished in 1888, to include forced labor and degrading working conditions.


Work began on the arena in April 2011, and stalled midway through because construction workers were being attracted to other projects in the city, according to Guimaraes. As well as a new stadium, Cuiaba is building a 22-kilometer tramway connecting its center to the local airport, which is also under construction.

“During this process the demand increased enormously,” Guimaraes said. “It got to the point where the labor force totally collapsed.”

At least four of the six stadiums still under construction for the event will miss the original FIFA completion deadline of Dec. 31.


The delay to the completion of the Cuiaba stadium was exacerbated by a dispute over the cost of the seats, which local prosecutors said were too expensive, and demanded a new tender. The seat provider offered to reduce the costs by 1 million reais to 17 million reais and the issue has been settled.

The arena, which remains a building site, will now be ready by late February, said Joao Paulo Curvo Borges, the engineer responsible for the arena.

“We will concentrate on the biggest stuff first,” Curvo Borges told reporters. “We’ll finish the roof by the end of December, then focus on the pitch, add the seats by January and then complete the internal fixtures like cabling and air conditioning.”

(Updates with number of Haitians in Brazil in eighth paragraph.)
    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE