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.