How immigration law can help South Africa's skills shortage

2013-12-04 19:26

Very correctly, professionals are seeking to immigrate to SA, not only for its natural beauty, or because their spouse or partner is South African. The country is showing some real signs of a place worth migrating to.

However, this could and should be used to attract much-needed skills into our country. A look at any European or North American country will show that their immigration policies favor those with higher educations and higher wealth. So should we in South Africa. But, as renowned immigration lawyer Gary Eisenberg notes in the November 2013 edition of Frontier Magazine: "During Apartheid, a sense of 'tribal privilege' developed in South Africa and people didn't quite understand the concept of an open society. After the fall of apartheid, the suspicion of foreigners remained part of the colonial legacy. Foreigners are still seen to introduce crime to the local population and economic competition for scarce resources, employment opportunities and social benefits."

Overcoming this mindset will not only assist SA in bringing skilled brains to our shores, but also help South Africa improve training and upskill locals. To quote Eisenberg: "South Africa's technological advances are extremely low. Foreigners fill the gap by bringing with them special skills, especially at a higher education level. For any country, immigrants at that level are important."

Recently, a Canadian immigration official who told a true, yet laughable story, in which a recent immigrant (with a PhD in Biology) to Canada was astounded at how easily he received permanent residence. He exclaimed: "How did I just get that visa so quickly?" The Canadian official simply said: "It takes us over CAD1,000,000 to skill up a PhD. We just got you for free!" Now that surely sets the tone for a country that wants to keep skills coming in.

Why then does the current South African government and immigration administration not show any cause to move in favour of an eased system for skilled foreigners? Qualified entrants into our country need to be able to work legally as soon as they land on the tarmac. The current Quota Work Permit and Exceptional Skills Work Permit do not do much justice. Hopefully, in time, this will change.

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