Migration overhaul required – Government busy with review
According to a new report titled ‘Skills, Growth and Borders: Managing migration in South Africa’s national interest’, there is a need for a basic change in the migration policy of South Africa, so as to address the current skills crisis in the country. According to the study, measures such as improving domestic education and training systems will not be enough to deal with a worsening local situation.
The study, which was done by the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), a local social research group, prescribes a reformulation of immigration policy by shifting away from the present focus on controlling immigration to a situation which more closely addresses growth targets in the South African economy.
The underlying finding of the report is that South African economic ministries should have more say in immigration policy, as opposed to the present situation in which the departments of Home Affairs and Labour are responsible for the formulation of policy.
According to executive director Ann Bernstein, the South African government’s growth target of 7% cannot be achieved without “a rapid infusion” of foreign skills, as well as the opening up of the country to “very large numbers of skilled immigrants”.
The report contends that the skills shortage is even worse than government has admitted, exceeding the estimated 502 000 person shortage published by the Department of Labour in 2008. A further contention of the report is that the present quota permit system is too expensive and cumbersome, and is also too narrow in its scope of operation.
According to Bernstein, the quota system relies on bureaucrats to determine current skills shortages in detail based on historical data, and due to inadequate consultation processes, this often results in the neglect of emerging skills. The report states that the quota system is archaic and under-utilised. The quota system allows skilled migrants to enter the country without a firm job offer, on the basis of the necessary skills that they hold. As an example, in 2008 36 000 permits were granted, but only 1 133 were actually taken up, despite a skills shortage of 500 000 people. ”
In a country desperate for skilled people, spending effort on predicting the precise skills needs of a dynamic market economy is a complete waste of time and money,” Bernstein says.
Although he was unable to comment on the report, which he had not yet seen, Home Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa told Engineering News Online that the department had already instigated an extensive review of the present policy.
Mamoepa commented that Home Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has already indicated that the new policy will attempt to segregate economic migration and asylum seeking, and that the consultation process has already started. Primary consultations involved the Congress of South African Trade Unions and Business Unity South Africa, but more consultation is envisaged in the first half of 2011. The new policy will be presented to Parliament for discussion.
The CDE hopes that the report will play a role in an admittedly “complex” discussion, in which the economic advantages of a freer dispensation need to be weighed against security, social and crime-prevention issues. Even so, Bernstein claims that is important for South Africa to leave behind the “fortress South Africa” mentality, and also amend a quota policy that is “flawed and misguided”.
According to Bernstein, South Africa needs to “stop playing victim in the global war for talent” and be more competitive. ”We must go beyond filling existing skills gaps in large companies.
We urgently need immigrants to revitalise our faltering public health, education and skills production systems, and to boost innovation and entrepreneurship,” Bernstein says.
The CDE also wants a “pathway” to be instituted that will allow unskilled “irregular” immigrants from Southern African Development Community countries to make their status legal in South Africa. ”
A legal migrant population would be easier to manage than an unknown, underground one,” the report states, and then goes on to add that legalising these immigrants would also allow their entrepreneurial energy to be utilised, as many of them may establish up job-creating enterprises and pay tax.