Former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro arrived in Florida on Dec. 30, 2022 — two days before the inauguration of his opponent, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and nine days before a large group of his supporters stormed Brazil’s capital and tried to overturn the country’s democratic elections.
The United States requires all visitors from Brazil to acquire a visa. But Bolsonaro’s legal status remains murky. Both the White House and the State Department have refused to comment on his visa status, citing the need to protect individual confidentiality.
Bolsonaro was still Brazil’s president when he touched down in Florida, and could have entered on an A-1 visa reserved for diplomats and heads of state. In an apparent tacit recognition that Bolsonaro could be using a diplomatic visa, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that A-1 visa holders had 30 days to either leave or apply for a different visa at the conclusion of their term in office.
“If an A visa holder is no longer engaged in official business on behalf of that government, it is incumbent on that visa holder to depart the U.S., or to request a change to another immigration status within 30 days,” Price told reporters. “If an individual has no basis on which to be in the United States, an individual is subject to removal by the Department of Homeland Security.”
“It’s the responsibility of the individual to take care of it,” he said.
Several Democratic lawmakers have questioned why Bolsonaro has been allowed to remain after his supporters tried to overthrow Brazil’s democratically elected government.
The White House said that while it had not yet received any requests from Brazil regarding Bolsonaro’s “visa status,” it would “treat seriously” any inquiries to review or revoke it.
“We’re not, as far as I know, in direct contact with Bolsonaro,” President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Monday. “So I can’t speak definitively about his whereabouts. We have not, as of now, received any official requests from the Brazilian government related to Bolsonaro.”
“The United States takes actions on visas all the time for all kinds of reasons,” Sullivan said. “But on this particular case, this particular individual, again, I have to proceed with extreme caution in terms of how I talk about it because of the legal issues and precedent issues involved, and so will allow discretion to be the better part of valor.”
Fabio de Sa e Silva, a lawyer and professor of Brazilian studies at the University of Oklahoma, pushed back on the claim that the president shouldn’t get involved in individual immigration cases or should wait until the Brazilian government acted.
“The Biden administration could immediately revoke his visa,” he said. “There is no need for any formal procedure or formal request from the Brazilian government or any authority. It’s entirely within the discretion of the U.S. administration.”
“Bolsonaro is not an ordinary visitor who is just spending time in the U.S.,” De Sa e Silva said. “He’s directly implicated in what’s happening in Brazil, actions that the Biden administration has already condemned.”
John Hudson contributed to this report.