SA not open for business due to immigration laws - expert

Cape Town - On international travels president Jacob Zuma keeps repeating the mantra that South Africa is open for business, but the country's immigration laws make this not really true in practice, according to Gary Eisenberg, immigration lawyer at Eisenberg & Associates in Cape Town.  

"If a country is open for business, however, it means the rest of the world must be able to engage with the economy through foreign direct investment (FDI) and come here if they decide to make business investments," Eisenberg told Fin24.

"The German economy, for instance, shows how small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the strength of an economy and not necessarily large companies."

He is experiencing a lot of frustration among owners of SMEs who want to bring their experience - for instance in the technology industry - to South Africa. They are willing to bring their intellectual property (IP), employ South Africans and transfer skills.

"That is what FDI is all about and the one thing our immigration system does not encourage at all is FDI. If entrepreneurs, who have proven themselves overseas, want to relocate to SA, set up a company and live and operate it in SA, they have to walk through fire to get a business visa," explained Eisenberg.

READ: One-third of US tech 'innovators' are immigrants - study

He added that many of his clients complain about the way they are treated at some SA missions overseas.

"I would, therefore, say in practical terms SA is not open for business, contrary to what President Zuma is saying. Over the last financial year there has been a 74% decline in FDI to SA. Statistics show the SA Government must open the economy and make it easy for foreigners to obtain business visas to come to SA," said Eisenberg.

"If they cannot get these visas easily, they won’t come and engage with the SA economy, while it is important for us that they do."

The film, television and advertising industry - including stills photography and international modelling - is an example of the negative impact of amendments to the Immigration Act which were made in May 2014.

"Before that time our immigration system was very flexible and though there were bureaucratic problems, the Commercial Producers Association could easily solve visa issues for foreign camera crew, producers and talent. It is a multi-billion rand industry, especially for the Western Cape," explained Eisenberg.

"When these changes came, there was a massive loss and they went to South America or other cheap European countries where visas were and are easily obtained."

Foreign engineers, doctors and managers - some wanting to help at local NGOs - also have problems obtaining visas.

"A total overhaul of SA's immigration policy is needed. We want skilled people and retirees with a certain income. Rather make it easy for them get visas. It seems people are streaming across our borders, while those we need have to go through a lot to apply for visas," said Eisenberg.

“A mind shift in the way South Africa views foreigners is essential. By introducing a strong immigration policy that recognises the value that foreigners can provide to our economy can only better our country.”

ALSO READ: How foreign skills can help SA grow

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