Brazil plans to waive visas for visitors from U.S., Japan

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s government is considering waiving visas for visitors from the United States, Japan, Canada and Australia to boost tourism, and could eventually extend the plan to include China, a tourism ministry spokesman said on Monday.

Tourists visit the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

The proposal by new Tourism Minister Marx Beltrão would extend for a 12-month trial period a visa-waiver program adopted for visitors from the four countries during the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this year.

Brazil’s President Michel Temer is keen to draw more foreign investment and visitors to Brazil to help pull Latin America’s largest nation from its worst recession since the 1930s Great Depression.

In 2015, 575.800 U.S. citizens visited Brazil, less than 10 percent of the total number of visitors to the South American nation. Meanwhile, the number of Brazilians visiting the United States soared in recent years to 2.6 million visitors in 2014.

The visa exemptions would become permanent if the number of tourists rises significantly and the governments of the four countries reciprocate by removing visa requirements for Brazilians visitors, the spokesman said.

The minister’s proposal still needs approval by other departments of the Brazilian government, particularly the foreign ministry which issues the visas and has demanded reciprocity to exempt U.S. citizens from needing visas.

Visitors from most Latin American and European Union nations, and Russia, do not need visas to travel to Brazil, but U.S. travelers have to cough up $160 for a visa to visit Brazil, an identical fee charged to Brazilians for visas to visit the United States.

The Brazilian fee was levied in retaliation for exclusion of Brazil from the U.S. visa waiver program.

The tourism ministry is studying the inclusion of several other countries in its visa waiver plan, mainly China to try to attract some of the 100 million Chinese tourists that travel abroad each year, the spokesman said.

Only 55,000 Chinese citizens visited Brazil last year.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Andrew Heavens