SA must up its skills in woo­ing skilled mi­grants – re­port

Mail & Guardian - - Business - Thule­bona Mh­langa

South Africa may be con­sid­ered a land of op­por­tu­nity by fel­low Africans, but a lack of clear im­mi­gra­tion rules for skilled mi­grants hin­ders the coun­try from at­tract­ing the best minds and tal­ent from the con­ti­nent to solve crit­i­cal skills gaps.

This is ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased last week by the Hu­man Sciences Re­search Coun­cil (HSRC). It also found that the fo­cus on trans­for­ma­tion has led to fewer skilled for­eign­ers be­ing hired in South Africa over the past eight years, and sug­gested that a bet­ter bal­ance must be found be­tween em­pow­er­ing lo­cals and the need for crit­i­cal skills.

South Africa’s job op­por­tu­ni­ties, es­tab­lished ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and mod­ern tech­nol­ogy in­fra­struc­ture at­tract skilled im­mi­grants to the coun­try, the re­port noted.

It found that South Africa is at­trac­tive for highly skilled job seek­ers with ex­per­tise in crit­i­cal sec­tors such as the sciences, in­for­ma­tion com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy and academia. But when com­pared with neigh­bour­ing coun­tries such as Botswana, South Africa does not have a clearly de­fined re­cruit­ment pro­gramme and pol­icy to im­port the tal­ent it needs in th­ese ar­eas, the HSRC re­port said.

Af­ter it gained in­de­pen­dence, Botswana recog­nised that it had a skills short­age in ar­eas such as teach­ing and nurs­ing, and be­gan poach­ing skilled mi­grants from the rest of Africa. Its im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy clearly states that skilled pro­fes­sion­als are only hired if there is no Motswana who can do the job.

In the case of South Africa, new im­mi­gra­tion reg­u­la­tions amended in 2014 re­placed the ex­cep­tional skills per­mit with a crit­i­cal skills per­mit, which is only granted to ap­pli­cants who meet the re­quire­ments of the crit­i­cal skills list pub­lished by the depart­ment of home af­fairs. This list in­cludes sec­tors such as agri­cul­ture, en­gi­neer­ing, ar­chi­tec­ture, busi­ness and health.

South Africa’s skills short­age has been a con­cern since 1994, said the re­port, adding that it needs a “proac­tive rather than a re­ac­tive pol­icy to ad­dress the crit­i­cal skills gap”.

Canada, Bri­tain, the United States, Aus­tralia and New Zealand were cited by par­tic­i­pants in the study as des­ti­na­tions with favourable poli­cies to­wards im­mi­grants.

De­spite US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s hos­tile stance on im­mi­gra­tion, re­spon­dents chose the US for what they per­ceived as its ap­pre­ci­a­tion of mi­grants, as well as its job op­por­tu­ni­ties. Tan­za­nia and Zam­bia were be­lieved to be open to for­eign cul­tures, mak­ing it easy for mi­grants to in­te­grate, and to have low lev­els of so­cial un­rest.

New Zealand has an es­tab­lished re­cruit­ment pro­gramme in place, as well as an eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble on­line sys­tem that en­ables ap­pli­cants to as­sess the crit­i­cal skills the coun­try needs, the study showed.

It also has a di­ver­si­fied crit­i­cal skills list cat­e­gorised into short-, medi­u­mand long-term needs, a fea­ture that is ab­sent in South Africa. In ad­di­tion it uses its em­bassies around the world to pro­file, tar­get, at­tract and re­cruit the skilled work­ers it needs.

The HSRC re­port says that South Africa can learn from New Zealand’s ef­fi­cient and speedy visa ap­pli­ca­tion process and how it pro­vides in­cen­tives to en­cour­age stu­dents to choose to work and study in New Zealand. Mi­grants in New Zealand con­trib­ute $3.3-bil­lion a year to the fis­cus.

An­other dif­fi­culty for South Africa is the dis­junc­ture be­tween the cur­rent push for trans­for­ma­tion and the drive for crit­i­cal skills.

The HSRC rec­om­mended that “a bal­ance needs to be found be­tween the two poli­cies, both of which are needed for eco­nomic growth and de­vel­op­ment”.

Other fac­tors such as crime, so­cial un­rest, bar­ri­ers to up­ward pro­fes­sional mo­bil­ity and low so­cial co­he­sion are also cited as rea­sons why South Africa may be­come less at­trac­tive to skilled mi­grants who will in­stead opt for other des­ti­na­tions.

South Africa can learn from New Zealand’s stu­dent in­cen­tives and visa ap­pli­ca­tion process

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