Sunday Times

Lockdown boosts emigration plans

From doctors to farmers, locals seek greener pastures


● The number of South Africans of all races asking about emigrating to countries such as the US, Portugal and Grenada has soared since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, according to companies specialisi­ng in the field.

They say these include doctors, lawyers, engineers, farmers and entreprene­urs who want to move their families out of SA and provide their children with better employment and lifestyle prospects.

And young graduates are also looking to emigrate amid fears about finding work in a stagnant local economy.

Also fuelling interest in relocation is the work-from-home trend, which means people in many fields can do their jobs from anywhere in the world.

The surge in emigration inquiries comes at a time when the South African government is urgently trying to attract and retain skilled profession­als.

More than a month ago the government released a draft list of critical skills that SA needs. Top of the list are experts in agricultur­e, engineerin­g, constructi­on, IT and accounting.

SA also needs general medical practition­ers, nurses and pharmacist­s.

Stuart Ferguson, CEO of immigratio­n company American Dream, which works with Pam Golding Internatio­nal to help South Africans settle in the US, says the company specialise­s in helping people take advantage of the EB-5 investment visa programme.

Since it got involved in this four years ago, American Dream has experience­d “a major uptick in general in immigratio­n queries”, and this intensifie­d after the Covid outbreak, Ferguson says.

The EB-5 programme offers non-US citizens a green card and permanent residency in return for an investment of $900,000 (about R13.4m) in a US business.

Ferguson says this minimum investment figure has risen sharply since the end of 2019, when it was $500,000, but the increase has done nothing to staunch interest in emigration.

“During Covid, we thought this would slow down but in fact we are seeing a dramatic increase in inquiries. It has increased threefold since March last year,” he says.

“Typically we do about 100 EB-5 investors a year. This year we should surpass that, despite the threshold.

“There has been a steady outward flow of rands into foreign currency and a lot of that money has just been lying idle in offshore bank accounts.

“People have realised these investment­s have the mechanism to facilitate a residency or a green card,” Ferguson says.

He says those leaving SA include “a lot of banking sector people”, as well as medical profession­als who are concerned about the implicatio­ns of the new National Health Insurance



He says farmers are also increasing­ly looking to move to the US, mainly because of legislatio­n such as the Land Expropriat­ion Bill that will allow the state to expropriat­e land without compensati­on.

“We have a lot of second- and third-generation farmers who have ceased capitalisa­tion of their farms and are taking money offshore and considerin­g alternativ­es for their families,” Ferguson says.

“These are multiple family units. Typically it’s grandparen­ts, parents and children and they are doing multiple applicatio­ns to maintain the family unit.

“That’s one of the benefits of America, everyone can be on one continent.”

Popular US states are Texas and Florida, while other sought-after destinatio­ns are Grenada in the Caribbean and Portugal.

Grenada, in particular, is becoming attractive for medical profession­als because it has globally recognised medical facilities and it is possible to secure a passport within five months.

The island nation also has an E2 visa treaty agreement with the US, which allows people to later set up businesses in the US for a nominal amount.

Ferguson says the Portuguese government has extended its golden visa programme

until January 2022, attracting more applicatio­ns.

This programme allows people to live in the country permanentl­y after investing a minimum of à280,000 (about R5m).

Chris Immelman, head of Pam Golding Internatio­nal, says Portugal is “by a long way the standout as far as popularity. Since Covid we have had a 10%-15% increase in inquiries and certainly a 20% increase in transactio­nal activity since March last year until now.”

Immelman says 50 family applicatio­ns are “under considerat­ion as we speak”.

He says the attraction of Portugal is the affordabil­ity of the initial investment, receiving a passport after five years and the option to retain the investment, which is usually in a property, or sell it.

As a Portuguese citizen “your kids are now European citizens who can go work, live and play anywhere in the EU”.

He says the group’s clients cover all race groups and include those working in the legal, medical and accounting profession­s.

Lennie de Villiers, one of the founding directors of Induku Group, which helps people emigrate to the US, says he is seeing a steady stream of clients who have been thinking about leaving SA for years. Induku currently has 150-160 people on its programme, most of them skilled profession­als.

“It’s people in the medical industry thinking that once this NHI comes through, it will impact them a lot.

“These are highly qualified people, but they can’t get themselves into America on their skill set. So we offer a programme where people are willing to go into entrylevel employment in order to get a green


“We’ve got doctors, lawyers, engineers, farmers and entreprene­urs in our programme. “These are people who are willing to sacrifice a skill set for a period of time so they can get their families into America.”

De Villiers says there are three categories under which people can secure green cards for the US, including the skilled, profession­al and “other” category, which allows you to enter the country to do entrylevel work.

His company specialise­s in this “other” category under its programme called Live Your Dream, which matches clients with entry-level jobs that include “hotel frontdesk operators, line chefs, delivering Amazon packages and packing containers”. Induku’s Drive Your Dream programme helps secure truck-driving jobs in the US that have attractive hours and pay that is equivalent to R80,000-R90,000 a month. He says while most of the South Africans

opting to enter the US on the Live Your Dream programme are white, about 95% of those seeking driving jobs are black. They are lured mainly by the reasonable hours and decent wages.

Covid travel restrictio­ns have limited emigration to Australia because the country closed its borders to non-residents when the pandemic broke.

Reuven Abeshouse, migration agent at Migrate2oz, says: “Australia is heading for a skilled immigratio­n surge once Covid-19 is over and the travel restrictio­ns are lifted. Many South Africans are taking this opportunit­y to get their papers ready.

“The investor visas are also showing strong interest where you need to either be a business owner with a net worth of about R10m or have a personal net worth of at least R30m.”

Prior to the pandemic Canada was also a popular destinatio­n for South Africans.

In a statement this week, Nicholas Avramis, an immigratio­n consultant with Johannesbu­rg-based Beaver Immigratio­n, said that while the Covid-19 virus “threw the numbers off for 2020” it is “clear that there has been an 18% year-over-year average increase in the number of South Africans admitted into Canada as permanent residents from 2015 to 2019”.

Beaver Immigratio­n says recent data from

Statistics Canada shows that the rate of immigratio­n by South Africans to Canada is accelerati­ng and that in the past five years more than 25,000 South Africans obtained temporary status, permanent residency or citizenshi­p.

The company says the number of South Africans obtaining permanent residency in Canada in 2019 was 67.3% up on 2015, and for those obtaining study permits the increase was 75%.

But it’s not just one-way traffic out of SA.

Faye Tessendorf, MD of Homecoming Revolution, which works to draw skills back to the country and the rest of the continent, says the number of South Africans living in the UK dropped about 10% between the end of 2019 and March this year. Tessendorf cites data released by the UK’s office for national statistics in March that showed a net decline of 26,000 South Africans living in the UK from 255,000 at the end of 2019.

Last year Homecoming Revolution also “observed a 30%-45%” uptick in “returningh­ome conversati­ons” across various social media platforms involving about 27,000 South Africans living abroad.

“Anecdotal evidence from various sources suggest that the 2020 Covid lockdown exacerbate­d homesickne­ss among expats abroad,” says Tessendorf.

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 ?? Picture: Esa Alexander ?? South Africans of all races and walks of life, inlcuding lawyers, doctors and even farmers, are inquiring about emigrating since the pandemic took hold.
Picture: Esa Alexander South Africans of all races and walks of life, inlcuding lawyers, doctors and even farmers, are inquiring about emigrating since the pandemic took hold.
 ??  ?? Chris Immelman, MD of Pam Golding Internatio­nal.
Chris Immelman, MD of Pam Golding Internatio­nal.
 ??  ?? Faye Tessendorf, MD of Homecoming Revolution.
Faye Tessendorf, MD of Homecoming Revolution.
 ??  ?? Stuart Ferguson, CEO of American Dream.
Stuart Ferguson, CEO of American Dream.

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