SA migration policy will be rewritten soon | Business Report

Ann Bernstein spoke on a panel on migration in Africa at the WEF forum in Cape Town on Friday. The panel was filmed and is available here.

Africa is home to over 3,000 distinct ethnic groups and 2,000 languages. How can the benefits of this rich diversity be sustained in the face of growing intolerance, violence and loss of life?

Dimensions to be addressed:
– Upholding respect for human rights
– Integrating skills and labour demand
– Managing migration schemes

This session was developed in partnership with Al Jazeera.

Speakers: Michael Hanna, Jeff Radebe, Ann Bernstein, Erik Charas, Khalid KoserTopics: Social Inclusion, Society

Ann’s arguments about immigration were reported in the Business Report on 5 June 2015.

“We have to be a lot more realistic about South Africa’s migration policy. We need to manage migration,” Bernstein said. “Government cannot be making ambiguous statements.”

Read the article online here.

Webcast: Migration | World Economic Forum on Africa 2015

CDE executive director Ann Bernstein speaking on the WEF panel on migration.


On the side lines of WEF Africa, CNBC Africa spoke to Ann Bernstein, Executive Director of the Centre for Development and Enterprise, to further understand the impact of migration on African economies. Migration is a difficult issue for many countries around the world and in South Africa this manifested in the xenophobic attacks of 2008 and 2015.


Op-ed: Policy rethink must consider SA’s need for skills dividend

Ann Bernstein for Business Day, 22 May 2015. Read the article at BDLive here.


This article is based on numerous reports by CDE dealing with migration policy in SA. Find them here.

Migration policy is challenging for all countries. Testimony to this is the rise in anti-immigrant populist parties in Europe, failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the US, and Australia’s controversial “stop the boats” asylum-seeker policy. Migration policy is difficult because it has to grapple with a politically volatile mixture of considerations: human rights, treaty obligations, diplomacy, national interests, security and economic growth. In this mix of interests it is all too easy for the positive dividends of a managed immigration policy to be drowned out, especially when images of Africans drowning in the Mediterranean or being beaten, looted and killed in the streets of Durban or Johannesburg set the tone of public debate.

In SA, migration policy must be considered in the context of the national imperative of growth, employment and skills.

Since the late 1990s, the Centre for Development and Enterprise has developed practical recommendations for linking skilled immigration to growth. However, as we concluded in a major policy document in 2010, the contribution of immigrant skills to growth cannot be seen in isolation from other aspects of migration, such as undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers and we made detailed proposals covering all important aspects of migration policy.

In 2008, in response to the murderous attacks on people from other countries, the centre called for a commission of inquiry to learn lessons about how these tragic events came about and how they might be prevented. Perhaps if the call had been heeded, President Jacob Zuma would not have had to admit this year that we did not learn from 2008, and the terrible events of the past few months might not have occurred.

In the aftermath of the latest outbreaks of violence and destruction, we welcome Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba’s intention to rethink migration policy and offer the following points of departure:

• The Centre for Development and Enterprise again calls for a judicial commission of inquiry into the January and April outbreaks. The country needs to know far more about the mixture of criminality, xenophobia, bad policy, misguided — or malicious — statements by public figures, intelligence failure, bad policing and other ingredients that went into these terrible events. We need a speedy, well-organised investigation that delivers facts and recommendations so SA cannot say in the future “we failed to learn from 2015”.

• There has to be consistency across government on migration issues. There is no room for any Cabinet minister to make rogue statements on “foreign businesses in townships”. We need to stop demonising foreigners in explicit and implicit ways. One reason so little has been delivered in the way of skilled immigration is that there is no shared understanding across government about the positive link between immigrant skills and growth. While the Department of Trade and Industry may “get it”, the Department of Labour sees its role as protecting South Africans from foreign competition by making the process of skilled immigration as onerous as possible and the Department of Home Affairs swings from an obsession with security to positive statements about immigrants without implementation.

• Asylum seekers: Serious resources must be devoted to this challenge. That there are 250,000 pending or failed asylum seekers in SA contributes to tension. The mismatch between one of the highest numbers of annual applications for asylum in the world, long delays and an acceptance rate of 10%-15% is a recipe for trouble.

• Facts matter: More accurate information must be produced and dubious numbers challenged. Greatly exaggerated estimates of the numbers of “foreigners” in SA — often unquestioningly recycled by politicians, commentators and media — underpin the tension and resentment that lead to violence. For example, the only two reliable facts about Zimbabweans in SA are that 500,000 Zimbabweans applied for asylum between 2008 and 2013 and that, when the government introduced a special dispensation permit in 2009, which allowed Zimbabweans living in SA to regularise their status, Home Affairs received 294,511 applications. Despite this, the figure of 3-million Zimbabweans in SA is widely circulated.

• Myths must be challenged: Research by the Centre for Development and Enterprise and others has conclusively dispelled assertions that large numbers of black graduates are unemployed, removing one of the popular arguments against skilled immigration. Research also indicates migrants create jobs rather than “steal them” and they are no more criminal than the local population.

• Border management: The centre welcomes the announcement by Gigaba that a major priority will be to set up an effective border management agency in 2016-17. However, this “priority” has been around since the late 1990s, resurfacing six years ago in Zuma’s state of the nation address. Such an agency will have to be the instrument of smart and innovative policies for border management. Completely porous borders and totally sealed borders are neither desirable nor achievable. A reliance on fences and heavy policing will consume too many resources, disrupt cross-border trade, tourism and human rights and probably be doomed to failure. Careful thought needs to be devoted to how managing SA’s borders can be done cost-effectively and without unintended consequences.

• Immigrant skills: It’s time to move from grudgingly allowing to enthusiastically encouraging foreign skills to help accelerate economic growth. The dire social and economic conditions that have helped give rise to the shocking violence against foreigners will be alleviated only if the economy grows much faster and in a more labour-intensive way. However, the long-standing huge skills shortage will prevent this.

SA’s failure to exploit the dividend of skilled immigration amounts to disabling self-harm. The enormous contribution of foreign skills to the US economy is well known — think Silicon Valley, where more than a third of companies have been started by foreigners. Many developing countries are coming up against skills shortages and preparing themselves to participate in the global competition for talent.

The violence of 2008 and this year cannot be neatly put in a box and labelled “xenophobia”. In 2008, one-third of the dead were South Africans and, then and again this year, there were disturbing signs that anti-foreigner violence could quickly turn to inter-ethnic attacks.

The warning signs are multiplying. SA is in dangerous waters. Accelerated and more labour-intensive economic growth is essential for stability. Managing the challenges of migration is a key part of what we need to get right. Crisis management is not the answer in this complex policy arena.


Video: Urbanisation: behind the numbers (Finweek TV)

Dr Debby Potts, reader at the Geography Department at King’s College London, on circular migration and Africa’s slowing urbanisation. 27 June 2013.

Migration and refugee policies: An overview

Ann Bernstein and Myron Weiner (eds), London: Pinter Press, 1999

In 1994 it became apparent that issues surrounding migration would present the country’s new government with some of its toughest challenges. Working with Myron Weiner of MIT, CDE commissioned six senior international consultants to write papers on the international experience of migration and refugee policies. Each of the authors drew on a vast range of empirical and theoretical material to write balanced accounts of the experiences and policy choices confronting governments of migrant- and refugee-receiving countries. Finally, the lessons learnt from these studies were brought to bear on the South African debate. Synopses of this research were also published as part of the CDE Migration Research Series.

This book can be ordered from



As a comparatively rich country in a poor region, South Africa attracts a large number of migrants. CDE has long argued that, while not without its costs and challenges, South Africa gains more than it loses from this. But our migration policies, which are currently under review, impact on our neighbours. In order to learn more about this, CDE hosted a workshop at which experts from countries in the region presented their views on the manner in which South Africa manages movement across its borders. The proceedings of that workshop are summarised in CDE Workshop no.8, South Africa’s migration policies: A regional perspective.



Report calls for dramatic increase of skilled immigrants to drive higher economic growth

17 November 2010


The Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), a leading SA policy research institution, has called on the government to open the country’s doors to very large numbers of skilled immigrants.

Ann Bernstein, CDE executive director says, “Higher economic growth will not happen without a rapid infusion of skills. This is the only way to relieve SA’s growing skills crisis in the short to medium term.”

This is the main recommendation of CDE’s new report on SA migration policy entitled, SKILLS, GROWTH AND BORDERS: Managing migration in South Africa’s national interest, released in Johannesburg this week.

According to the report, SA almost certainly lacks more skilled people than the Department of Labour’s estimated half a million. Its domestic skills production system is ‘grossly inefficient’, and will take years to reform.
The only way to access the large numbers of skilled people essential for higher economic growth, relatively quickly is through immigration.

While opportunities abroad lure away many skilled South Africans, the global market for skills could be used to recruit skilled people from elsewhere. “We should stop playing victim in the global war for talent, and start to compete,” says Bernstein. “SA’s migration regime has consistently failed in this respect.”

According to the report’s authors, government has been promising to make it easier for skilled immigrants to enter the country for more than ten years. Bold reforms are now urgent if South Africa is to grow more quickly.

“Everywhere in the world, countries are seeking to attract skilled immigrants,” says Bernstein. By contrast, SA’s skilled migration regime is ‘poorly conceived, narrowly based and ineffective’.

The report notes that the system governing corporate and intra-company work permits is functioning better than it once did, but the quota system – through which skilled migrants could enter the country without a job offer – is almost entirely unused. In 2008, some 36 000 permits were made available for skilled foreigners to enter the country without a job offer, but only 1 133 were taken up. This, at a time when the Department of Labour has estimated the skills shortage to be more than 502,000.

“The key priority,” says Bernstein “must be to attract very large numbers of skilled foreigners from wherever we can find them in the developed and developing world. In a country desperate for skilled people, spending effort on predicting the precise skills needs of a dynamic market economy is a complete waste of time and money.”

South Africa needs an immigration policy aimed at recruiting ‘very large numbers’ of skilled people. “We need a policy that welcomes, with an absolute minimum of conditions, anyone with skills,” says Bernstein. “This must include entrepreneurs and not just those who have millions to invest, but proven smaller entrepreneurs.”
“We must go beyond filling existing skills gaps in large companies. We urgently need immigrants to revitalise our faltering public health, education and skills production systems, and to boost innovation and entrepreneurship,” concludes Bernstein.

This media release is based on the following CDE background resource document, SKILLS, GROWTH AND BORDERS. Managing migration in South Africa’s national interest.

SKILLS, GROWTH AND BORDERS: Managing migration in South Africa’s national interest


South Africa suffers from debilitating skills shortage. Its own skills production system is grossly inefficient. Making matters worse, skilled people have been leaving the country at an alarming rate. In the long term, the skills production system needs to be reformed while in the short term an urgent reform of South Africa’s migration policy might help so that hundreds of thousands of skilled people can be enabled to live and work here.This report makes the case for reducing South Africa’s skills shortages by recruiting large numbers of skilled foreigners and by improving the flows of economic migrants and asylum-seekers.

Read the executive summary above or read the full report online here. The background resource document is also available online here.



 Media coverage

Immigration: burden or benefit?


An economically sensible policy, putting our citizens first,could be created in SA, write Ann Bernstein and Simon Dagut.

Successful migration management begins by thinking less about the rights of migrants and refugees and more about the interests of citizens.

Last year’s anti-foreigner violence was the most dramatic proof yet that South Africa is not managing migration effectively.

There is plenty of other evidence that we are doing badly in this crucial area. We had a backlog of over 200 000 unprocessed asylum claims at the end of 2008. Despite crippling shortages of skilled professionals in many fields including medicine, 97% of our skilled migration quota work permits went unused in 2007/8.

How can experience in other countries help South Africa to create a migration management system that supports economic growth, job creation, and development and that does not undermine our country’s commitment to human rights?

A country’s migration system should highlight the best interests of its citizens. As Tamar Jacoby, one of America’s leading advocates for migration policy reform, puts it:

“At least in the United States, it is not effective to appeal to human rights. Americans are not remotely interested in the rights of people from outside their political community. You need to think and talk about migration in terms of the national interest. The national interest is not just economic – it includes the right to protect the nation’s values and sense of itself.”

This does not mean that policy makers need to encourage or pander to xenophobia. Most people aren’t firmly xenophobic. In general, voters are pragmatic and willing to accept immigration if they do not have the impression that irregular immigration is out of control and if they can be reassured that it will benefit the country.

Governments wanting to manage migration effectively should therefore begin by taking steps to reassure their citizens that they are in control of the situation, that borders are being effectively managed and that migrants are not obtaining unfair access to welfare and other public resources.

These steps are essential preconditions for a sustainable, humane and economically appropriate migration strategy. The international evidence is clear: if you can’t reassure locals that migration is under control, there is a greatly increased risk of an anti-foreigner backlash that will make it much more difficult to protect refugees and accept economic migrants.

Effective migration management depends on reliable information. Countries need to develop a clear sense of how many people are arriving and leaving, who they are, what skills emigrants have taken with them; what jobs immigrants are doing and could do; where they live; what they contribute to the economy and society overall; and what other consequences arise from their presence in the country.

Drawing on the information they are gathering, governments should spread the message that migration is not out of control. Particular localities will experience rapid inflows from time to time – and governments should be prepared to deal with the local pressures that will arise.

There is no evidence that any reasonably sized country – including South Africa – will be “submerged” in immigrants. Worldwide, no more than 3% of people ever migrate from their home country. All the research (by ourselves and others) indicates that it is highly unlikely that there are more than about 3 million foreign-born people among South Africa’s population of around 50 million.

The case for skilled and entrepreneurial migration really is a “no brainer”. It is estimated that each skilled migrant to the United States adds around US$200 000 (R1.5 million) to public finances.

Skilled and entrepreneurial migrants do far more than expand the tax base. They link countries to global markets, pass on their skills and fill niches not occupied by locals – for instance, by running low-cost retail outlets in rural areas. Best of all, skilled and business migrants create jobs. They do this both by bolstering demand and by directly hiring locals. CDE research has found that, on average, one in every four immigrants to Johannesburg directly employs a South African.

Definitions of skills and of entrepreneurship should be broad. A skilled plumber or a successful small business owner can be as valuable as a university-trained engineer or the country manager of a large corporate investor.

Governments should distinguish as clearly as possible between refugees and economic migrants, between legal migrants and illegal or irregular ones – and then develop realistic ways of handling all the different kinds of migration.

South Africa has received a large number of migrants from Zimbabwe, some of whom are fleeing political oppression and violence, and some of whom are extremely poor. We are trying to manage this flow using a European-style case-by-case refugee management system. This is not working. We should probably be looking much more closely at how other developing countries and African states manage asylum and refugee issues with the assistance of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

We could learn from Malaysia and Thailand, who administer unskilled economic migration, using simple “pay-to-play” systems. If employers want to bring in workers, all they have to do is pay the migrant as much as a local person in the same job, plus an additional levy. As a result, employers only hire foreigners if they genuinely can’t find a local to do the job. The levies collected go into a training fund for local workers.

Countries that manage migration will have strategies to facilitate integration. Immigrants and locals must both come to feel that newcomers are politically and socially integrated into their new home country. The international experience is that integration is more successful when it emphasises shared economic goals and the rule of law. In South Africa’s case, we should be unapologetic about expecting newcomers to respect our Constitution and the values it embodies.

It is possible to create a workable, economically sensible migration policy in SA that does not undermine human rights and is supported by a solid majority of voters. This will not happen automatically. Strong leadership, a simple clear policy rooted in national interests and effective ongoing communication to the different South African interests affected is required to show voters that migration can be managed in the national interest.

This article is based on CDE’s report, Managing migration in South Africa’s national interest: lessons from international experience


– Ann Bernstein and Simon Dagut, The Star