SAO PAULO (AP) -- Brazil plans to modernize and expand its overcrowded ports, attract private investments to the sector and make it easier for companies to hire skilled foreign workers, in a bid to spur economic growth,
The Brazilian Congress approved legislation late Thursday that allows the private sector to invest in state-owned ports and lifts restrictions that have hindered the building of private terminals.
The legislation, which must still be approved by President Dilma Rousseff, eliminates a rule that forced private companies with their own terminals to only handle their own cargo. They now can handle third-party goods.
The government has said the legislation will help eliminate bottlenecks that have hurt exports such as soybeans.
It is part of a government plan to invest 54 billion reals ($27 billion) to make the country's ports more efficient and improve the competitiveness of Brazilian exports by reducing freight costs by 20 percent.
Also on Thursday, the government's official gazette published new measures that reduce the paperwork foreigners need to go through to obtain visas for temporary or permanent work permits.
The changes, approved earlier this week by the National Immigration Council, make life easier for companies in need of skilled labor.
Skilled professionals can obtain visas without a contract and no longer have to leave the country and get a new visa every time they move to a new job or company.
In addition, students working on their masters or doctoral degrees who want to work for up to 90 days for a Brazilian company will be able to easily obtain visas.
"The idea is to increase the circulation of highly skilled professionals in the country," Labor Minister Manoel Dias told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper.
Thanks largely to a decade-long boom in commodities, Brazil last year became world's sixth largest economy. To keep growing, the country needs well-trained professionals, especially engineers to help tap the vast deep-sea oil deposits off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state that officials here are counting on to fuel Brazil's development.
Experts have warned that the lack of skilled professionals and workers could stymie Brazil's development.
The past decade of booming growth saw the number of unskilled jobs shrink, replaced by semiskilled and high-skilled posts which observers say the country is already hard-pressed to fill. And if the economy is to continue to develop, so will its need for skilled labor.
The paucity of such jobs is already having repercussions on businesses here. Brazil ranked 48th out of 144 countries on the World Economic Forum's 2012-213 global competitiveness report due to infrastructure problems as well as a lack of skills.