Occasional Paper

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.