Managing Economic Migration in South Africa

This paper provides a comprehensive overview of South Africa’s immigration regime and its impact on African economic migrants.

The current migration policy is being amended as a result of South Africa’s desire to attract skilled migrants and deter irregular and semi-skilled migrants. This is similar to the approaches many developed countries use to attract skilled migrants from developing countries. Drawing on South Africa’s long-term experience with migration, the paper identifies policies and legislation that either facilitate or hinder economic migration. It also positions some of South Africa’s approaches against those of the EU: both welcome highly skilled migrants but conflate national security issues with the supposed threat that semi-skilled or unskilled migrants pose to their societal makeup. The Green Paper on International Migration’s proposed changes to South Africa’s migration regime also shows similarities with the EU’s approach in terms of heightened border control, increased use of deportation regimes, and suggested asylum seeker processing centres. Should these changes be implemented, they will be regressive in terms of current domestic laws.

The suggested policy changes in the green paper do not account for the manner in which the government intends to tackle mounting xenophobic sentiments towards migrants; nor do they provide details on social and training programmes to help up-skill semiskilled migrants.Yet despite its regressive stance on asylum seekers, the green paper is a step forward in terms of addressing irregular and potentially semiskilled migration from within the region through the proposed SADC and circular visas. If implemented, these measures will simplify administrative procedures in recruiting migrant workers for specific sectors and reduce the need for businesses to apply for corporate visas. Another positive suggestion is easier processes for foreign graduates seeking employment within the country. Lastly, this paper identifies bottlenecks in current processes in South Africa’s migration regulatory framework, and concludes with select policy recommendations for relevant stakeholders.