Cape Town – We’ve all heard the saying the grass isn’t always greener on the other side – well apparently it is when it comes to South Africa.
At least that’s what the department of home affairs is trying to convince some of the more than 250 million international migrants in the world. According to the latest World Bank figures, that’s 3% of the world’s population and more than five times South Africa’s current population.
The issue of international migration has been a hot topic of late, with a number of far-reaching implications, as one only needs to think of Brexit or the effects of war in places like Syria to get an inkling of an idea.
But what potential does international migration hold for developing countries such as South Africa, said to be home to two of the top 20 cities for expatriate employees to live in?
Admittedly South Africa does have a rather high unemployment rate and an even more recent history of xenophobic issues, but it’s this said potential that is the core focus of the green paper on International Migration drafted by the department of home affairs as it attempts to change perceptions of its processes as more than just a “nuisance” department.
‘A moral, political and economic issue of our time’
Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba launched the Green Paper on International Migration at Freedom Park earlier in July saying, “what is evidently lacking in the current international migration framework is that it is not treated as an inevitable process that can richly benefit our country”, if its risks are better managed as a crucial part of the process that is.
The DHA says the framework must address possible abuses due to lack of policy when it comes to economic and asylum-seeker migrants but also aim to recruit and retain “critical skills in a world where they are so intensively pursued”.
‘Retaining critical skills’
But while the British fear the movements of those attempting to flee the horrible reality that exists in the middle-east, South Africa has had its own immigration issues and concerns to deal with across its various borders.
The DHA says it recognises that international migration “is not just about the affluent strata of the economy”, but also a development issue.
“African migrants sent approximately $35bn home in 2015, an amount almost equalling the total amount of development aid Sub-Saharan Africa received from OECD countries the previous year ($36bn in 2014), and only 25% less than Africa received from all countries ($47bn in 2014), according to official remittances says the DHA.
With the launch of its green paper, the DHA says its review of SA’s international migration framework, with the policy last articulated 17 years ago with the 1999 White Paper, most notably the Immigration Act of 2002 and subsequent amendments, seeks to address the significance of South Africa as a major destination and entry point to the continent and the world.
A complex network of migrant movements
“That is, most of the SADC nationals are transiting through South Africa to the continent and the world. Further, world leaders, including politicians and business persons, travel through South Africa to the region, and low-skilled, working-class migrants both travel to South Africa and transit through the country to other destinations.”
While South Africa has become a preferred destination for investors, migrants from the African continent, as far as the Horn of Africa, are transiting through South Africa to their destination countries in Europe and North America. This has been exacerbated by the tightening of borders and political instability in North Africa (The Arab Spring), say the DHA.
“Added to this South Africa attracts tourists from all the regions of the world because of its natural beauty, vibrant culture, and various tourist attractions; and it has become a major venue for conferences and international events.”
While many African countries continue to liberalise their immigration regimes in line with the continental regional integration strategies and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 vision. For instance, EAC and ECOWAS member states have implemented visa-free travel for citizens of the respective regions.
The DHA says many South Africans have taken advantage of globalization and have migrated to various developing and developed countries and that the South African diaspora abroad can contribute to the achievement of national goals more so than is presently the case.
Gigaba says, “National thinking and attitudes to international migration are currently influenced by an unproductive debate between those who call for stricter immigration controls and those who call for controls to be wholesale relaxed. The discourse is in general characterised by strong emotions, stereotypes, unreliable anecdotes, and contested statistics.
“Discussions are usually limited by rigid, ‘either/or’ and ‘us and them’ thinking that sets up false dichotomies.”
The Green Paper on International Migration has been gazetted for the public to submit comments up until 30 September 2016.
According to the Green paper, policy changes will include the following key points, with the department set to host various stakeholder engagements at national, provincial and local level on the matter.
– Management of admissions and departures – with a risk-based approach to make it easy for travellers to enter SA while keeping out the small minority of undesirable travellers.
– Management of residency and naturalisation. Prioritise foreign nationals most likely to make significant contributions to SA’s society and economy, replacing mechanical, compliance-based processes with smarter, more tailored processes and conditions for qualification.
– Management of international migrants with skills and capital – Attract and retain skilled workers and investors to positively impact SA’s growth and competitiveness.
– Management of ties with the South African diaspora – For the first time SA’s policy will look at better contact and communication with expats across the globe.
– Management of international migration within the African context – addressing the continental developments, significant immigration from SADC countries, as a core element of regional integration.
– Admission of asylum seekers – considering options to protect refugees and efficiently manage genuine requests for asylum and protecting the human rights of refugees as well as manage the abuse of the asylum seeker system by economic migrants.
– Management of the integration process for international migrants – better integration of immigrants into our society for nation building and social cohesion.
The Green Paper seeks to balance the primary imperatives of economic development, national security, international and constitutional obligations, says the DHA.
As South Africa becomes a major source, transit and destination country for mixed-migration flows the DHA has set out its international migration framework changes as follows:
1. South Africa has a sovereign right to manage international migration in its national interests and in accordance with constitutional principles, socio-economic development objectives and national security. It must promote human rights, advance the National Development Plan, takes into consideration circumstances and resource constraints as well as ensure all persons residing in South Africa – citizens and foreign nationals alike – are and feel safe.
2. South Africa’s international migration policy must be oriented towards Africa and speak to a nation’s foreign policy. South Africa is committed to regional economic integration through its participation in the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union, of which the DHA says it is an enthusiastic supporter of Agenda 2063 – including the recent pilot of the African Union citizens ‘passport.
“Our policy must equip us to work with regional partners, to progressively liberalise movement, in line with the aspirations of the people of our continent, for Africans to be able to move freely in Africa.”
3. South Africa’s international migration policy must contribute to nation-building and social cohesion.
“We must expand our narrow conceptions of who is a South African, previously confined to black, white, Indian or coloured people as defined by the Apartheid state, to include new South Africans originating from all over Africa and the world. We must expand our discourse on nation building and social cohesion to recognize the enormous social and economic contributions of immigrants in our country, and welcome and integrate them into our communities.
4. South Africa’s international migration policy must enable South Africans living abroad to contribute to national development priorities. Hundreds of thousands of South Africans travel, live and work abroad for various lengths of time. “Not only must we think of ways to leverage our diaspora, but we must ensure we treat guests in our country the way we would like to be treated, not if but when, we ourselves travel abroad.”
5. International migration is a phenomenon with profound implications for all areas of government and society. Its effective management likewise requires a ‘whole government-whole society’ approach.
Unlike the previous revision of South Africa’s immigration policy which saw extensive backlash due to lack of consultation with key stakeholders in the implementation of the unabridged birth certificate for travelling minors as an example, the DHA says it will be consulting with researchers and academics including immigration experts, practitioners and professional bodies; all government departments, Labour unions, Organised business including BUSA, BBC, chambers & informal traders, NEDLAC, NGOs for SA and migrant communities, the Immigration Advisory Board, SALGA, Provincial and local government co-ordination structures, RSA ambassadors, traditional leaders, religious leaders as well as the Home Affairs and Labour Portfolio Committee member.
Members of the public have until 30 September 2016 to submit comment on the draft.