Immigration is a subject of vigorous national debate in developed and developing nations. In South Africa the subject tends to be viewed as peripheral in public policy debates. The attitude of some of our citizens to foreign nationals from other African countries seems to be the main immigration issue in the public domain. As a department we regard immigration as a complex challenge and opportunity.

Our perspectives derive from two world views that were eloquently highlighted at the recent UN High-level Dialogue on ‘international migration and development’. Delegates from over one hundred countries set out their perspectives. The majority seemed convinced that migration contributes to development.

Sweden and Bangladesh reflect the major concerns. Sweden, faced with an ageing population and the need to attract immigrants with scarce skills, has radically opened  up to migrants. Their main target is skilled European citizens and temporary or seasonal workers from the developing world. This will help Sweden address skills gaps and employ unskilled foreigners to take labor intensive jobs and work in the service industries.

Bangladesh, a poor developing country with a large population, defines itself as a migrant-sending nation and relies on contractual partnerships with rich countries, especially in the middle East that allow for thousands of Bangladeshi nationals to take up jobs and formally remit portions of their wages to their home country. The remittances are the primary source of revenue for many national budgets and such countries train their citizens for seasonal work as professionals or unskilled workers.

South Africa is a special mix of these models of migration. One the one hand, we are a receiving country. We have a long history of receiving migrant workers from the region and the wider African continent, refugees and asylum seekers, millions of tourists, skilled workers and investors. One the other hand, we are a sending country. Many citizens work outside South Africa, of whom some remit but remittances are not a source we rely on for our national revenue.

Our immigration policy addresses these different aspects of migration. We provide a wide range of visas for different categories of persons to work, live, and invest in South Africa.

However as the National Development Plan indicates we have not yet passed laws to take full advantage of the opportunities available. We still tend to view immigration as negative rather than strategic.

Many South Africans view migration as a threat to their job or business opportunities. We need to do more to change these attitudes. We are rethinking immigration policy. We intend to have a stronger focus on attracting skills, creating jobs, and encouraging investment. Our existing visa regime already addresses these needs, but we need to refine our policy and implementation to ensure we achieve the desired objectives.

We are considering further streamlining of our scarce skills strategies by proposing work permits for foreign graduates from South African universities. We already provide for visas for researchers, but need to make these multiple entry permits as researchers work on projects over several years and should not be encumbered by the need to apply each time they visit South Africa. We are initiating a comparative review of our business focused visa regime in order to assess our competitiveness in comparison to other countries. Skills and business migration are areas of global competition and South Africa must ensure its policies allow it to take advantage of all international opportunities.

While we are keen to ensure we are globally competitive, we are also aware migration has become a security risk for countries that have progressive national migration policies. One area in which we are at significant risk is in our management of asylum and refugee applications. We are committed to meeting our international law obligations, while strengthening our management of this aspect of migration.

We have begun to deliberate on the creation of a SADC work seekers visa as part of improving our management of asylum seekers. At present due to the absence of such a facility citizens in the region use our refugee law as a means of legalizing their stay in South Africa.

An emerging area of challenge is the manner in which some foreign employees of international corporates attempt to convert temporary contracts and permits to permanent residence in South Africa. This means companies do not support South African manager training and thus fail to support our skills development priorities.

Finally we are working hard to improve the calibre of our staff so that we manage the immigration functions competently, it is a complex area of work but we are convinced that it has immense strategic opportunities for South African development.

Issued by Ministry of Home Affairs
Lunga Ngqengelele: 012 432 6646 | 082 566 0446