Immigration policy in South Africa requires coalition building

On the radio programme The Money Show with Bruce Whitfield, Richard Pike of Adcorp had estimated that there was a vacancy rate of 829 800 high skilled jobs in South Africa that could not be filled, in part because the immigration laws made it difficult to recruit internationally. The report on which the estimate is based can be read here [PDF: Link]
In my mind, somewhere on Empire Road, I did a quick calculation.
There is a truism that every skilled job creates somewhere between 2 and 3 jobs. So in effect if the data at Adcorp is correct, we are potentially losing out somewhere between 1,6 million and 2,4 million jobs.
There is a truism that every skilled job creates somewhere between 2 and 3 jobs. So in effect if the data at Adcorp is correct, we are potentially losing out somewhere between 1,6 million and 2,4 million jobs. Importantly, the call is too fill jobs that currently exist in companies, not a clarion call for igniting entrepreneurial activity. Simply stated, existing companies do not have the skills they need to run their businesses. Adcorp, has far as I can tell not made their methodology for calculating employment rates or the estimates for immigration open to public scrutiny, and as such the claim does not yet pass the tests needed for evidence based public policy. However, even if Adcorp is half correct, then this is an area that requires significant attention. It is safe to assume that Adcorp is correct, even if there methodology still needs scrutiny:

  • The Department of Labour has estimated in 2008 that there are 502Β 000 skilled vacancies in the South African economy.
  • There are several studies that reach similar conclusions, and are instructively reviewed by Reza Daniels [PDF Link], of the University of Cape Town. Each of these studies reviewed indicate a lack of skilled workers in the South African economy.

The pro-business think-tank, Centre for Development and Enterprise summarises the argument for reviewing immigration policy as follows:

Immigants can spur growth by filling the skilled jobs which firms need in order to expand; providing the entrepreneurial skills needed to start new businesses; and adding the education, training, engineering,medical, and other skills needed to improve service delivery.

CDE then continues to outline a set of proposals to achieve these objectives, which require careful evaluation.
But, this is only half the story. There is another set of compelling arguments around immigration.
First, South Africa has a high rate of graduate unemployment. The Quarterly Labour Force Survey indicates that an estimated quarter million unemployment graduates. (This is the first Chart of the Week that we will produced on Zapreneur). The argument goes that these graduates have under utilised skills that competent and creative companies could utilise to fulfil their own objectives, and in this case contribute to the national goal. Significantly, there are section of organised business that have focussed solely on immigration policy, but have not focussed extensively on the wider issues related to the skills shortage in South Africa.
Second, there is a concern that foreigners would replace South African jobs. Importantly, if there is demonstrable evidence of a link between skilled foreign workers, and the creation of local employment, these concerns need to be addressed. A good example would be the Malaysian attempts to attract skilled workers and entrepreneurs into their economy which matches their national interests with the needs of potential immigrants.
Third, there are genuine concerns that the Department of Home Affairs would not have the capacity to fulfil their role in a new (I should note that I recently applied to replace my stolen Identity Document, and received a skilled, competent and friendly service from the Department of Home Affairs.)
Importantly, the New Growth Path indicates that:

the overall supply of highly skilled labour should be increased by continued efforts to streamline the immigration system in ways conducive to the inflow of skills, linked to a skills-transfer programme and an on-going commitment to upgrade domestic education on a broad basis.

The debate on immigration policy is thus an important area to debate especially as it relates to economic inclusion in South Africa. The debate would be assisted by:

  • Strategies to include unemployed graduates and improve the skills profile of South Africans,
  • A more deliberate strategy on how to deal with attracting skilled migrants into South Africa

It is an area that requires careful attention due to its importance. More to the point, an agreement on the appropriate policy for skilled migrants is possible, requiring building a coalition across business and labour. It requires reframing the debate in a way that speaks to the wider imperatives of economic growth and economic inclusion. The foundations of creating this coalition is the already existing evidence. Immigration policy must be part of the wider policy package to improve skills in the economy. Moving the debate forward requires making the linkages between increasing recruitment of skilled foreigners, and the potential impact on employment in South Africa. It requires turning the truism that jobs will be created as a result of reviews to our immigration policies be developed into a more coherent set of arguments that support public policy proposals.
[Ed Note – This post has focussed on skilled migrants, but recognises that there are wider issues related to asylum seekers and undocumented migrants]

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