Financial education and bank account opening for refugees and migrants

By: Diogo Felix, ACNUR Brazil

What forms of credit are available? How to draw up a household budget? What documents do I need to open a bank account? These and other questions common to those who come from another country and need to rebuild life in Brazil were the theme of the lecture “Financial Education for Immigrants”, held last Friday (12), at the headquarters of the Central Bank of Brazil (BCB) in Rio de Janeiro, with the support of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security and the Assistance Program for Refugees (PARES) of Cáritas RJ.

The event brought together 25 migrants or refugees and was divided into two moments. In the first, the Central Bank analyst, Fabiano Alberton, spoke about personal finance management, advising on the planning of expenses, advising on the operation of interest rates and explaining peculiarities of the Brazilian credit system, such as the overdraft.

Presenters from countries such as Angola, Nicaragua, Democratic Republic of Congo and Venezuela also received tips on applications such as the BCB’s Citizen’s Calculator, which helps, for example, as a benchmark in the calculation of fixed-income financing.

In the second moment of the speech, the public defender of the Union, André Ordacgy, raised doubts about the opening of bank account by migrants, refugees or asylum seekers. Although the diversity of the group was also verified in the life span of Brazil, which varied from two months to ten years, there were common stories of difficulties in banks, such as the Venezuelan Oscar Santander, who took six months to open his first account in the country, or the one of compatriot Yennifer Zárate, of whom it was demanded until signed wallet.

According to the general coordinator of the National Committee for Refugees (CONARE), of the Ministry of Justice, Bernardo Laferté, the immigrant can apply to open an account in any banking institution of the country, be it public or private. To do this, simply carry the Protocol of the Request for Refuge, which is issued by the Federal Police. Central Bank Circular Letter 3,813, dated April 7, 2017, guarantees that the protocol is a document capable of opening the account.

Bankers’ unawareness is major obstacle

In practice, however, many banks still reject the Protocol as a valid identification document, preventing access for migrants and refugees to the right to open an account. The same happens when the document presented is a passport expired. For Ordacgy, although the information is not clear in the BCB circular letter, the passport, even if it is out of date, should be accepted as an identification document.

Another difficulty for opening accounts relates to the proof of residence, which, according to the circular letter, should be a water, electricity or telephone bill, but which, according to the public defender, does not necessarily have to be in the name of the future businessman. As it is common for people in situations of refuge to live in favor of the house of acquaintances or of rent in communities where there are no charges of consumption, Ordacgy explains that it is possible to carry a residence declaration with a recognized signature of the lessee, in the first case, or association of residents, in the second case.

For the public defender, who is grandson of Syrians, the existence of so many obstacles to the banking of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants shows that investment in staff training in banking institutions is fundamental. At the same time, it puts the DPU at the disposal of those who need it.

“Anyone who is in a situation of impediment to open account in the bank should look for the Public Defender of the Union.”

The DPU headquarters is located at Avenida Presidente Vargas, 62, in the Center of Rio de Janeiro (the list with other DPU units in Brazilian capitals can be found here). Complaints against banks can also be made to Banco Central do Brasil in three ways: by the institution’s website, by telephone 145 or in person at BCB headquarters (Presidente Vargas Avenue, 730). The Central Bank does not act on the individual case of the citizen, but the denunciations help in the process of regulation and supervision of the financial system.

Refugees or migrants may also take a copy of the Central Bank’s Circular Letter No. 3,813 to the bank in which they wish to open an account. If you do not have the means to print the document, you can request a copy at the headquarters of PARES Cáritas RJ, located at Rua São Francisco Xavier, 483. If you are in another city, look for a UNHCR partner organization.