Why is South Africa afraid of skilled immigrants when they are essential for enhancing economic growth?

October 2000

One of the defining features of democratic South Africa has been the much more visible presence of foreigners in different parts of the country. Traders from West Africa and Zaire, hairdressers from Ghana, poor peasants from Mozambique, high school graduates from Zimbabwe, academics from all over, drug dealers from Nigeria. The whole question of immigration to South Africa – by both skilled and unskilled people – has emerged as a new and important area of controversy. But the country’s focus on illegal migrants has diverted attention from the real crisis issue: the deepening shortage of managerial, professional, and entrepreneurial skills which will undermine the country’s potential for sustained economic growth.

If South Africa wants to become a competitive economy in the global system, consideration must be given to the relationship between opening our borders to trade, industry, culture, communications and capital, and the movement of people which must inevitably follow. Immigrants generally have entrepreneurial talent and ambition, are prepared to take risks and possess the necessary drive to survive and succeed in a foreign country. The benefits of skilled immigrants have long been understood by developed countries which entice foreign highly skilled doctors, academics, engineers, and many others to their shores. For example, Singapore, Germany, Ireland, South Korea, the United States and United Kingdom have all sent ‘poaching’ expeditions to India to try and recruit information technology engineers to make good an increasingly alarming shortage in information technology skills back home. The United Kingdom has a special programme to attract South African nurses.

Test case

In the global economy today, economic growth and competitiveness is increasingly determined by high level skills inputs, the value added by innovations in management, production systems and technological innovation and by the levels of entrepreneurship and new risk ventures. Against this background, South Africa’s white paper on international migration and the government’s response to it becomes a test case of the coherence of government thinking on economic development.

Since 1996 the department of home affairs has wrestled with the complex question of a new migration policy. Progress has undoubtedly been made. Unfortunately the 1999 white paper on international migration and the draft legislation on migration this year reflect a deeply ambiguous and unresolved approach to this critical national issue.

The draft legislation and the white paper contain important provisions that very seriously contradict the sound general principles that underlie the government’s approach to economic policy and that are accepted in the same white paper. These contradictions undermine the capacity of the proposed legislation to meaningfully address an emerging crisis in South Africa. South Africa is experiencing a deep and growing skills crisis. Newspaper reports reflect the dimensions of the crisis: ‘more than 300 specialist nurses are leaving South Africa every month’; ‘soon there could be more South African doctors in California than Cape Town’; ‘the accounting profession claims it is losing seven out of ten new graduates in brain drain to Britain’.

No one should be under any illusions. The facts are clear:

  • According to the minister of education, ‘there is a crisis at every level of the education system’. As a result, there are declining numbers of matriculants in 1999, and fewer entrants to universities in 2000.
  • Research by ING-Barings estimates that 12,1 per cent of highly skilled workers, 21 per cent of skilled workers and 29,4 per cent of semi-and unskilled workers will be hiv-positive by 2005. The report points out that the ‘cost of supporting and replacing a highly skilled workers with hiv/aids will be substantially above those for semi- and unskilled workers’.
  • The country is experiencing an average net loss of more than 4 000 largely skilled people a year. The magnitude of South Africa’s ‘brain drain’ is disguised by serious data deficiencies. For example, according to The Indian Ocean Newsletter, while 5 500 South Africans told authorities that they had emigrated to South Africa, Australian authorities said that 9 000 arrivals from South Africa had been registered during that period. Official figures are widely agreed to be underestimates by a factor of 2 to 3 times.
  • Employers in practically every sector of the economy are complaining of the shortage of skilled managers and experienced professionals.

Provisions questioned

In this context, it is hard to understand a number of provisions in the draft legislation:

  • the implication contained in certain clauses that the country’s needs for specific skills can be determined and calculated by state agencies. This is simply not possible in the current global economy in which skills needs are fluid and subject to rapid change. The injunctions in the bill for consultation by the department of home affairs with other departments and official agencies in order to set quotas and targets in respect of skills are bound to distort market forces, hamper economic growth, and prejudice business and investor confidence;
  • the imposition of a training levy on employers for every skilled foreigner hired. Employers will already be paying a premium for expensive and scarce skills, hence this additional tax will constitute a double burden that will hamper growth;
  • the failure to provide for participation by organized business and the department of finance on the immigration board; and
  • a number of other important provisions (for example, clause 12 on work permits, clause 15 on intra-company transfer permits) that will retain tight controls and significant administrative and professional costs in respect of the employment of foreigners.

The reputation of the department of home affairs has suffered badly because of difficulties encountered by important investors in South Africa in securing necessary production, managerial, and professional skills. This suggests that much firmer ministerial intervention than has hitherto been exercised will be required to provide the persuasive reassurances on which confidence can be rebuilt. If the cabinet is serious about our economic recovery and sustained growth, it will ensure that the minister has full backing in turning immigration policy into an instrument of economic progress.

What are we afraid of? South Africa is hardly the most attractive destination for the more highly skilled personnel, successful entrepreneurs, and managers from the rest of the world. There is absolutely no danger whatsoever that South Africa will be ‘swamped’ by the kind of people its economy so desperately needs. While giving the appearance of sensible restraints and checks on the inflow of skilled immigrants, the limitations of the bill are in fact an additional tax on the economy. This legislation if implemented will act as a ‘man-made’ ceiling on South Africa’s much needed economic growth. Why are we doing this?

Many specific recommendations in the draft bill and the white paper seem to be based on the assumption that skilled immigrants are a threat to the interests of formerly disadvantaged South Africans, and that they are taking jobs away from South Africans.

Wrong assumption

This assumption is simply wrong in the light of the facts:

  • more skilled people will increase the capacity of the South African economy to expand and provide more job opportunities for all residents;
  • more skilled people are necessary to expand the capacity of the country to train and educate all its citizens to world class standards; and
  • more skilled people will play a part in lowering the income gap between highly skilled and unskilled in the country.

Government’s immigration policy should be much more effectively positioned as a facilitator of national economic growth. The president should publicly acknowledge the depth of the skills crisis and its negative consequences for all South Africans.

This crisis has four consequences for migration policy:

  • the doors of the country must be opened to as many skilled professionals and entrepreneurs as we can attract to come here;
  • it is a fallacy to think that there is a contradiction between equal opportunities for all South Africans irrespective of colour and the active participation of employers in the global marketplace for skilled personnel. In fact the opposite is the case. All those who argue against opening our doors to as many skilled people we can attract are denying South Africans without jobs or skills all the new opportunities that will inevitably arise from a new wave of skilled immigrants across our borders;
  • authoritative national research on the socio-economic impact migrants have on the country – both positive, negative and unintended – is required as a matter of urgency. This will ensure that the public debate is about facts rather than rumours, myths or speculation unsupported by evidence; and
  • the international experience is clear. Governments in countries that are losing skilled migrants – as we are – need to consider whether they are doing enough to keep such skills in the country.

Skilled immigrants needed

Confidence is one of the characteristics of success in the international economy. We must not be frightened by competition but embrace it. South Africans are as good as anyone in the world given the opportunities to prove it. We need skilled immigrants to create more opportunities for everyone and especially those who are unemployed and unskilled now. Skills and experience that
have been acquired at a cost to governments elsewhere in the world are a most important form of foreign direct investment, even more valuable than its monetary equivalents. The white paper and the draft legislation on international migration is ‘not good enough’. Business leaders need to impress on the president, the minister and the cabinet as a whole the importance of demonstrating their resolute commitment to our basically sound economic policies by:

  • recognising the deepening skills crisis that faces South Africa;
  • adopting a clear-cut and unambiguous new migration policy that encourages and welcomes the foreign investment which skilled immigration implies;
  • opening the door to any skilled, entrepreneurial and honest person who wants to come to South Africa;
  • implementing an effective communication strategy to inform and educate South Africans about the benefits for all of such immigration;
  • by so doing counteract the fearful and insecure ‘insider-outsider’ concerns which are an undercurrent in policy thinking both inside and outside of parliament; and
  • insisting on effective and transparent implementing machinery .

Strong leadership

Such a new immigration policy will impose a great burden of leadership but leadership is the one resource with which South Africa is well endowed. Strong political leadership is crucial to the new policy’s success. Political leaders must:

  • differentiate clearly in public communication between skilled and unskilled migration, and also legal and illegal migration into South Africa;
  • adopt the CDE’s recommended approach to skilled migration as this is essential for economic growth. As a part of successfully selling and implementing the policy, leaders must:
    • inform the public about how the country can benefit from skilled newcomers;
    • underscore and stress the need for migration to stimulate economic growth;
    • assure the public that skilled migrants do not take jobs from South Africans as we have yet to produce sufficient skilled people for all our economic, training and educational needs;
    • reassure citizens of the government’s commitment to effective education and training for all South Africans;
    • explain that migrants will have to obey the laws, support themselves and pay taxes;
    • educate South Africans about the inevitability of increased migration in a world of more porous borders;
    • ensure through authoritative research, that the public debate is about facts rather than rumours, myths or speculation unsupported by evidence; and
    • assess whether the government as a whole is doing enough to keep skilled people in the country.

What South Africa requires now is a clear-cut and unambiguous policy, supported by strongly reasoned arguments which are backed by all members of the Cabinet. We need to remove all restrictions on skilled people from anywhere in the world moving to South Africa and simultaneously mount a determined campaign to attract skilled foreigners to the country. The president needs to back the minister of home affairs in adopting a positive attitude on this critically important issue.

Whose interests are being served by this ambiguity, hesitation, and delay?


– Ann Bernstein, Acumen

Suggested amendments to the draft Immigration Bill of 2 February 2000


CDE, March 2000

These suggestions are based on CDE’s comments on the white paper on immigration. It is suggested that the bill begin with a preamble that will indicate the spirit of the law in the event of a legal dispute. Other specific suggestions are made to the clauses of the legislation to facilitate the inflow of investors and skilled workers.


Becoming ‘the world’s most promising emerging market’: Is the government’s white paper on international migration good enough?


CDE, February 2000

The government’s white paper on international migration recognises, correctly, that the challenge for the country is to take advantage of the positive aspects of globalisation while taking a realistic view of the resource constraints and strategic impediments to policy implementation. Other useful proposals include a specialised immigration service, offering visa-free travel to a broad range of visitors and delegating responsibility to companies in the form of ‘corporate’ work permits. However, the paper fails to recognise the impacts of AIDS and emigration on the skilled workforce, and the proposals are hatched in a policy vacuum by not taking account of the government’s broader policy goals of employment, entrepreneurship and economic growth. The paper also makes the immigration process onerous by requiring too much bureaucratic intervention and supervision.


Media Release:


Should South Africa open its doors to skilled foreigners?

CDE Debate 8, October 1997

CDE held its eighth debate on 13 October 1997. A number of contentious issues bearing on immigration policy were raised. Do increased opportunities for some mean less for others, or can immigrants help expand the cake of opportunities? What skills are in short supply and can immigration help? Is it really possible for South Africa to relax its borders effectively, and if so, at what cost?

The speakers were Ms Lindiwe Sisulu, deputy minister for Home Affairs; Robin Plumbridge, chairman of Gold Fields SA; and Lot Ndlovu, president of the Black Management Forum. CDE’s executive director Ann Bernstein chaired the debate.




Migration controls need to be liberalised

16 July 1997

Is the implementation of the government’s proposals in its draft green paper on international migration feasible? This is the key concern raised.

The proposals include the establishment of a department of citizenship and immigration services which, if ever set up, will simultaneously have to transform itself, establish an elaborate categorisation of skills required in the labour market, regulate migrant worker quotas, sanction employers who employ unregistered cross-border workers, apply a points-based system of skilled immigration, control the informal immigration of non-sadc migrants, and, most onerous of all, attempt to curb the entry of large numbers of unregistered sadc migrants whose entry will be facilitated by the new social and home community networks that the expanded migrant labour system will create.

The draft green paper also argues for the establishment of a new immigration ‘police’ at precisely the time when the saps with its more essential function is starved of resources and manpower. A new South African migration policy should be realistic about the country’s limited institutional capacity. After all, this is a country which cannot even measure its underground economy, or collect rates and service charges from residents who live at listed addresses, or enforce television licence requirements, or collect parking fines, or register voters without duplications and omissions.


International experience

Again, international experience is instructive. Leading researchers conclude that ‘employer sanctions are very difficult to implement in third world countries due to the large, unregulated and informal labour force’.

The central proposals in the draft green paper will result in policies and actions which will be counter-productive, impossible to implement, perpetuate costs for the economy and negate some of the very principles on which the draft green paper is based.
CDE welcomes many of the draft’s points of general departure, but finds, unfortunately, that the draft does not follow these through in its policy recommendations.

The draft proposals effectively extend the present arrangements for male contract migrants (in agriculture and mining) to include women and additional employment sectors using annual quotas. They argue that the primary means of access of sadc citizens to the South African labour market should be temporary, and such access should not be seen as a first step towards permanent residence.

Such a system will perpetuate the migrant labour system in which the initiative would remain with employers to justify requests for cross-border labour.

This expanded approach to migrant labour will nonetheless have the same deleterious effects on family life, amount to bureaucratic control over regional labour allocation – as opposed to the commitment of the government’s macroeconomic growth, employment, and redistribution (gear) programme to ‘greater labour market flexibility’; and will inevitably counter provisions of the Bill of Rights. This remarkable recommendation in the draft paper runs counter to all that we know of the process of migration.

CDE’s research into the international experience of migration policy is clear. As University of California’s Professor Philip Martin puts it: ‘There is nothing more permanent than temporary workers. Guest (or migrant) worker programmes are easier to start than to stop; one of the best ways to actually ensure continuous, as distinct from short-term, labour migration from a country or region is to recruit guest workers.’


Disparities in wealth

In the draft it is argued that the disparities in wealth between countries in southern Africa make a liberalisation of migration policy – which would accord with the principles of gear and with the promise of an open regional economy – impossible at this stage. South Africa must contribute to the economic revival of the region with a view to making eventual liberalisation of labour movement possible. CDE contests this approach, on two grounds:

  • First, while helping countries in the region is to be recommended, the notion that South Africa could make a sufficient contribution while necessarily pursuing its own more rapid growth is unrealistic.
  • Second, international research shows clearly that development assistance in the short-to-medium run tends to increase the propensity of citizens of the poorer country to migrate.

To link migration policy to a long-range regional economic strategy is likely to be effective only in the very long term.

With respect to skilled migration, the draft green paper provides for an elaborate occupational categorisation of the South African labour market. The aim: to establish a points-based system of control. Such an approach is neither consistent with gear’s commitment to achieving optimal labour market flexibility nor compatible with our limited national statistics.

Even the latest population census, when its full results are eventually available, will not allow the refined differentiation between grades and types of skills that will be sensitive to employer needs. Any system which requires elaborate information will not only be difficult and very costly to establish and maintain but will inevitably lead to distortions in the allocation of skills in the labour market. It is most unlikely to function better than a system which simply requires the would-be immigrants to describe their qualifications and skills and provide proof that their skills were useful in an economic and vocational sense in their country of origin.

The draft’s approach will also discourage recognition of less-formal accomplishments, particularly of abilities in small-scale entrepreneurship.

The draft green paper ventures these high-risk, high-cost proposals because they defer to the view that migrants take South Africans’ jobs. It is a plausible fear but, in practice, far less actual job competition occurs than people imagine; migrants take jobs South Africans do not want and they often create their own work and employ South Africans.
International research is unambiguous: ‘The methodological arsenal of modern econometrics cannot find a single shred of evidence that immigrants have a major adverse impact on the earnings and job opportunities of natives of the United States,’ says an economic development organisation.


Two-tiered approach

CDE proposes a simple two-tiered approach to migration: free movement of skilled people from anywhere in the world to South Africa, and the probationary entry of unskilled sadc people who, once they have satisfied a series of basic requirements, may in time, qualify for permanent residence and work rights.

The CDE policy provides real incentives for migrants to enter the country legally, register with the authorities, become economically productive and observe the laws of the land.

  • It establishes a framework which offers the best prospects for the effective management of the inevitable process of migration.
  • It offers the country the best chance for the state to re-establish its legitimate authority. Political leadership is crucial.

A liberalisation of controls on migration into South Africa will not be immediately popular but, if political leaders are prepared to spend some effort in pointing out the complexities of the problem, CDE is convinced that opposition will begin to abate.

Unfortunately the draft green paper stops halfway. A policy that follows its recommendations will be unable to hold the line where they have drawn it, will consume more and more state resources, perpetuate nameless, faceless, mass raids to apprehend illegals, will impose onerous restrictions on employers, will continue to undermine the state’s legitimate authority, and will fail to harness migration policy as a tool for growth and development – the very objective they set themselves.

This article is based on the CDE publication ‘People on the move: lessons from international migration policies’; and ‘People on the move: a new approach to cross-border migration in South Africa’ (June 1997)


– Ann Bernstein, Lawrence Schlemmer and Charles Simkins, Cape Time

People on the move: Lessons from international migration policies

CDE Research 6, June 1997

The CDE Migration Series is based on an examination of the international experience in five areas central to the migration issue in South Africa. Working with Professor Myron Weiner, former director of MIT’s Centre for International Studies and chairman of the External Research Advisory Committee to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, CDE commissioned five research papers from international experts on selected topics relevant to migration policy in South Africa.

This, the first of two reports in the series, summarises the work emerging from this international project. In the second and final report, People on the move: A new approach to cross-border migration in South Africa, the lessons learnt are brought to bear on the South African debate.




Media Release:


Fortress SA is hardly a wise way to discourage aliens

11 June 1997

It seems logical to argue that South Africa must act strongly to curb migration into the country. After all, ‘charity must begin at home’ and we have millions of our own citizens desperate for jobs, housing, schooling, and other services.

And yet the assessment of the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) of the realities of the migration process: the implementation capacity of the state; the nature of the South African economy; and extensive local and international research ‑ all indicate that this ‘get tough’ approach on migration will not work and government will be seen to be failing to exercise its legitimate authority.

The ‘get tough’ argument ‑ or ‘fortress South Africa’ ‑ is based on many assumptions shown by the research to be false. A few examples:

  • South Africa has had border controls and programmes of repatriation ‑ about as strict as it is capable of ‑ for a number of years, but the number of illegal migrants is still large. No‑one knows exactly how many ‑ and probably less than is speculated ‑ but significant numbers of people have slipped through the net. Proponents of Fortress South Africa generally fail to explain how the country will suddenly become more effective at sealing the borders and at what cost.
  • The Institute for Security Studies has proposed tighter border controls (floodlights, motor detectors etc) and internal controls such as tamper‑proof identity cards, a comprehensive national registration system with built‑in punitive measures against employment and a ‘system to ensure that illegals are not employed in the under‑ground economy’.

‘Limited resources’

CDE suggests that a country which cannot even measure its underground economy, control tax evasion, collect rates and service charges from residents who live at listed addresses, enforce TV licence requirements, collect parking tickets or register voters without duplications and omissions will not be able to implement tougher measures. Former deputy home affairs minister Penuel Maduna has highlighted the country’s limited resources: ‘… England, as an island has a total of in excess of 5 000 immigration offices, while SA with its vast borders, has fewer than 1 000 officers to fulfil the same task. The allocated funds for 1996/97 unfortunately do not allow the enlargement of the department’s establishment in regard to immigration officers. The service supply cannot be rendered at the required level.’

There is only flimsy empirical data on the overall impact migrants have on the social, political and economic life of South Africa. Yet proponents of Fortress South Africa make only negative assumptions about all these issues. International research points in a different direction.

For example, the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development found in 1992 that ‘the methodological arsenal of modem econometrics cannot find a single shred of evidence that immigrants have a major adverse impact on the earnings and job opportunities of natives of the United States’.

Many people suggest curbing migration to South Africa through increased aid to uplift economies of neighbouring states. Again this sounds plausible, and yet evidence suggests otherwise.

The 1992 United States Commission for the Study of International Migration and Co­operative Economic Development put it this way:

‘While job‑creating economic growth is the ultimate solution to reducing these migratory pressures, the economic development process itself tends in the short to medium term to stimulate migration by raising expectations and enhancing people’s ability to migrate.’

The truth is that developments like the Maputo corridor are more than likely to increase the flow of migrants to South Africa for the foreseeable future.

Current government policy on migration issues is ad hoc and confusing.

Deputy President Thabo Mbeki says that deporting illegals is a waste of resources. Home Affairs Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi talks of increasing resources and policing in order to deport and keep illegals out. The defence minister speculates on the possibility of switching on the electrified border fence. The ministers of finance, trade and industry travel the region and the world arguing for greater trade and investment, contacts and tourism with South Africa ‑ all of which will increase the migration pressures.

Current policy assumes that any job occupied by a non‑South African means one less job for a South African; and yet the macroeconomic strategy (and we might add the global economy) is based on an expanding view of jobs and opportunities, not this zero‑sum approach.

Decisive choice

No migration policy will work perfectly ‑ there will always be ways in which people can slip through the system. However, it is essential for citizens of a country to believe that government is regaining control of the migration process.

This requires a decisive choice about migration and leadership from politicians.

The Centre for Development and Enterprise’s analysis and orientation is clear. We are in favour of migration as a phenomenon ‑ many migrants are the risk‑takers of their communities, people with the drive and need to work hard.

This philosophy should apply to rural‑urban migration within South Africa and to migration across our borders. South Afrcia will not become a successful world competitor as a closed protectionist, narrow society. Diversity, openness and the opportunity to maximise the energy and unforeseen talent of people are required to build a great society and encourage entrepreneurial growth.

This does not mean an open invitation should be issued to everyone in Africa to migrate to the southem tip.

States have a right to secure their borders and keep out undesirables ‑ criminals, vagrants ‑ drug traffickers, gun‑runners, cross‑border cattle rustlers, and so on ‑and to do this effectively.

A clear distinction needs to be made between crime control and migration issues. Strict and tough crime control measures should not be used, mistakenly, as tools of migration control.

CDE’s proposals address the central challenge of migrants seeking medium to long‑term work and residence in South Africa. We advocate a two‑tiered approach to migration policy ‑ for skilled and unskilled migrants.

Lift all restrictions

With respect to skilled migration, CDE advocates the immediate lifting of all restrictions on skilled people from anywhere in the world moving to South Africa. The country’s focus on illegal, generally unskilled migrants has drawn attention away from the real crisis issue ‑ the enormous and growing shortage of managerial and other skills which undermine prospects for sustained economic growth.

The definition of “skilled persons” should be expanded to include not only the traditional, professional, technical, managerial and investor categories but also entrepreneurs of all kinds who have some demonstrated skills in the creation and management of either formal or informal enterprises.

It is an illusion to think that tough restrictions on getting into South Africa will help neighbouring countries keep skilled people. If denied the opportunity to move to South Africa when and if they want, many skilled people will leave the continent altogether.

CDE proposes that unskilled migrants should be accepted only from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries and, in order to remain in South Africa, must demonstrate that they are able to become self‑supporting, tax­paying, law‑abiding residents. While our proposals are generous, they facilitate control since they provide incentives for people to register with the authorities and “play by the rules”

The CDE approach gives any unskilled migrant from a SADC country six months to prove that they can find or make work to support themselves on condition they provide an address in South Africa. At the end of this period those who succeed in finding or making work must serve a further two‑year probationary period. At the conclusion of the probation migrants are rewarded with permanent work and residence rights and only then access to more than minimal health services.

Access to on‑off lump sum subsidies (housing, land, infrastructure) should be restricted to migrants who fully commit to SA by acquiring citizenship ‑ accessible only after an additional three‑year period of successful work and law-­abiding residence.

CDE’s approach has two significant advantages: it offers positive incentives for migrants to follow legal channels and operate within the laws of the land; and the system of control within the country can focus mainly on individuals with names and addresses rather than a mass of nameless, faceless “illegals” whose existence and scale can only be guessed at.

Under the proposed system it will be easier to track down defaulters who fail to report back as required ‑ a very different approach from unacceptable mass “pass raids”.

Administrative capacity

Does South Africa have the administrative capacity to implement even CDE’s modest approach to migration policy?

An upgrading of information systems and monitoring procedures is necessary, but the scope of the problem will be hugely reduced.

The proposed policy builds on international experience as well as on South Africa’s own experience. We believe it is in the country’s best interest, and that it is a policy which South Africa has the capacity to implement.

A policy like this is probably the governments only chance of regaining control of the migration process.

This article is based on the CDE publications ‘People on the move: Lessons from international migration policies’; and ‘People on the move: A new approach to cross-border migration in South Africa’ (June 1997).


Ann Bernstein, Lawrence Schlemmer and Charles Simkins, Business Day

People on the move: A new approach to cross-border migration in South Africa

CDE Research 7, June 1997

The CDE Migration Series is based on an examination of the international experience in five areas central to the migration issue in South Africa. Working with Professor Myron Weiner, former director of MIT’s Centre for International Studies and chairman of the External Research Advisory Committee to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, CDE commissioned five research papers from international experts on selected topics relevant to migration policy in South Africa.

The first report in the series, People on the move: Lessons from international migration policies, is based on an examination of the international experience in five areas central to the migration issue in South Africa. This document, the second in the CDE Migration Series, analyses the current policies on migration in South Africa, and develops a new approach to cross‑border migration for the coun­try. Based on a detailed analysis of critical issues in the migration policy debate, CDE’s proposals involve a two‑tier approach distinguishing between skilled and unskilled migration. The CDE policy package is designed to stimulate economic growth and strengthen the economy by enlarging the pool of skilled people and entrepreneurs and by promoting a more efficient labour market. The proposals accommodate regional pressures for migration while limiting the claims on public resources until immigrants have demonstrated their capacity to contribute to the country. The approach proposed by CDE builds on international experience and on South Africa’s own realities and experience.




Media Release:


Response to the green paper on international migration 1997

CDE, June 1997


The draft green paper correctly rejects the misconception of the labour market as a cake of fixed size that needs to be protected from foreigners. It also recognises the importance of immigration in reducing South Africa’s skills shortage. This spirit, however, is not carried through to the policy proposals as the paper worries about ‘unacceptable competition for jobs’. The notion that a liberalised immigration regime should be delayed until the countries of the region have similar income levels is both incorrect and ill-advised. CDE’s greatest concern lies in the feasibility of their implementation: the Department of Home Affairs will have to simultaneously transform itself, establish the categorisation of skills required in the labour market, regulate migrant labour quotas, sanction employers who use unregistered cross-border workers, apply a points system of skilled immigration and attempt to control the entry of large numbers of unregistered migrants.


Media Release: