Skip to main content

Rules favour informalisation, corruption

Resource type: News

Cape Times (South Africa) |


SOUTH AFRICA can gain from offering more resources and legitimacy to immigrants, academics suggest, but the country’s citizens meanwhile suffer from restrictions on the rights of foreign nationals.

According to a draft submission by the Forced Migration Studies Programme at Wits University to the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report 2009, South Africa’s immigration policy should be revised if the country is to maximise the benefit of having migrants.

According to Loren Landau, director of the Wits programme and one of the paper’s co-authors, migrants could uplift the South African economy if they were permitted to develop and use their skills.

While immigration generally helped development, keeping migrants illegal, he said, “has harmed the country in a number of ways”.

For example, the paper reported, “Many foreign citizens without the right to work – but with the skills and willingness to do so – accept positions where they are paid below the minimum wage |or work in inhumane |conditions”.

And many with work permits were still turned away from jobs for which they were well-qualified. As a result, current policy was driving processes of “informalisation and illegality”, including corruption, depression of wages and poor working conditions, which harmed South African workers and undermined unions.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s shortage of skilled labour could be alleviated by employing qualified immigrants. Landau cited teachers and engineers among those currently forced to work well below their abilities.

And, despite South Africa’s “acute” nursing shortage, “thousands of refugee nurses remain unemployed because they cannot prove their qualifications”, the paper reported.

Scapegoating of foreigners persisted, and risked preventing South Africans from holding government responsible “for their shortcomings and failed promises”.

An exclusionary approach would also limit immigrants’ investment in their communities, commitment to improving them, and even civil order.

“People who do not feel welcome in South Africa’s urban society are less likely to respect the rules and institutions dedicated to governing it.”

Rather, South Africa would benefit from “an approach that aims to improve the entitlements and capabilities of all residents, regardless of their origin”, which would allow the country to better address the unemployment and inequality it currently faced.

Therefore, immigrants should have easier access to documentation and social services, and skilled workers should be fast-tracked for South African certification.

Future regulation would also depend on increased co-ordination among government bodies, which currently suffered from “a paucity of |collaboration”.

The paper cited apparent unwillingness on the part of Home Affairs to disclose data on migrants to municipalities, for example, which could hamper city planning efforts.

Landau said ultimately, migration policy should recognise the interconnectedness of the entire region’s economy.

“Until a line connecting (South Africa and Southern Africa) has been made, South African migration policy is never going to be quite right.”