Introductory Remarks by Home Affairs Minister, Malusi Gigaba for Third Roundtable on International Migration: Intra-regional migration within SADC and implications for International Migration policy
6 February 2015
Good morning, I would like to thank you all for joining us today. We have represented here, participants from the academy (Wits), media, research institutions (the Gauteng City-Region Observatory, South African Institute of Race Relations, Centre for Development and Enterprise); organized labour (COSATU), organized business (Business Unity SA), other government departments (Departments of International Relations & Cooperation, Economic Development and Labour), and foreign governments (the State of Qatar). You are all welcome, and we appreciate your participation here as we continue our series of expert roundtables exploring various important aspects of international migration.
Background the immigration policy review process
Changes to immigration regulations came into effect on 26 May 2014, but these were to address glaring weaknesses and needs for rationalisation. This was not a full scale policy update.
SA last adopted an International Migration policy in 1999, there have been significant changes in the landscape since then.
We have accordingly identified the need for a full policy review and decided to widen policy development efforts in order to take account of the changed landscape since 1999 which has placed before us new challenges that require that, instead of tinkering with the policy process, we overhaul it and comprehensively review it;
The management of international migration (IM) is part of DHA’s core mandate. We are mandated to manage it in a way which maximises our development, enhances our security, and ensures the fulfilment of our constitutional and international obligations.
The notion of “management” imposes the need for a paradigm shift away from the narrow, reactive approach with its over-emphasis on regulation and, where possible, attempting to combat an obviously inevitable process, towards a more proactive, engaging approach that seeks to harness this process in order to realise its optimal socio-economic benefits.
Proper management seeks not only to harness the positive forces and consequence of international migration, but it also is underpinned by:
- a proactive approach that regards immigrants as a potential for development whilst taking into consideration national security concerns;
- harnessing multi-stakeholder involvement between the different government departments as well as between the different tiers of government;
- harnessing government and non-governmental stakeholders, including the broader community, towards the common objective of managing international migration, particularly immigration, in the national interest that is clearly defined, common understood and shared;
- harnessing regional, continental and international stakeholders in order to share the risks, benefits as well as responsibilities, and;
- ensuring through all of this that public support, trust and confidence is won which would make ordinary people recognise the positive effects of immigration not only in relation to our socio-economic development, but towards what is often neglected, and that is, social cohesion.
Thus we emphasize that international migration is something to be managed thoughtfully, not limited instinctively.
This inherently involves balancing trade-offs and competing interests. It is impossible to please everyone. We hope that throughout the policy development process, stakeholders will trust that we are open to all suggestions on how to best maximize the aforementioned interests, bearing in mind the balancing act we must perform.
IM is a complex issue with important and far-ranging implications. Thus it is critical that the policy development process be robust and thorough, and incorporate broad and diverse input and perspectives from academics, thought leaders, practitioners, stakeholders such as business and labour as well as ordinary citizens.
Through the process of roundtables leading to a colloquium, we hope to widen our understanding of all the perspectives and issues, to enrich the policy development process.
These roundtables are useful to ensure we are asking all of the right questions. At the colloquium we will start to see initial recommendations from the papers presented; and these will all feed into the policy development process thereafter. We hope to have a policy on International Migration adopted by cabinet by the end of 2015/16.
Overview of the situation: intra-regional migration within SADC
South Africa values its connectedness with the world, and the rest of the African continent in particular. International migration is a key aspect of this connectedness.
We see our national development as being inextricably linked to regional development, and greater economic linkages with SADC and the continent is a key part of our economic development plans.
South Africa, in line with the African Union, shares the view that African states should work towards progressively freer movement of citizens within regions, to eventually reach the point of free movement of Africans across the continent.
Currently, we have individual agreements with most SADC countries which waive visas for short-term visits to South Africa, for up to 90 days in a calendar year.
Of course, SADC and African citizens are also able to live, study, work and invest in SA using our mainstream visas and permits.
The main challenge we face regarding intra-regional migration within SADC is around irregular migration. We receive high numbers of economic migrants, which in this context refers to irregular migrants from SADC and beyond, who come to SA for primarily economic reasons, but outside of the regular immigration process. These are primarily low-skilled job seekers, as well as small/micro-entrepreneurs, who are not catered for by our mainstream visa regime.
Irregular migration presents a challenge for all governments. Not knowing who is in your territory, undermines the state’s fundamental responsibility to provide effective administration:
- It presents problems of revenue collection, planning, service provision, labour market disruption, and security;
- Attempts to obtain South African citizenship through fraud and corruption undermines the integrity of our identity systems, including our NPR, the credibility of our travel documents, and our ease of travel abroad;
- It undermines our ability to keep foreign nationals in our country safe, as they fear interaction with authorities lest they be deported, and are vulnerable to criminals and corrupt officials; and
- It poses an ever-present threat of skirmishes and conflicts, which can get violent, between nationals and foreign nationals, sometimes over scarce resources or sometimes petty issues
In our context, a particular challenge has been that economic migrants acquire de facto work or business permits through the asylum-seeker system, which has consequently been overwhelmed:
- SA receives the greatest number of individual asylum-seekers globally; only about 5% are granted the refugee status. Most of the remaining 95% are claiming asylum to buy time in order to work and to find ways, often illegal, of staying in South Africa;
- In 2013, SA received about 70 000 new individual applications for asylum, 49% of which applications came from the SADC region;
- This causes enormous delays for genuine refugees to have their status recognized, and to receive support and thus undermines the fulfilment of their rights, particularly to security and the pursuit of their social lives;
- Some unknown number of irregular migrants stay illegally in South Africa without claiming asylum, with many seeking to regularise their stay through fraud and corruption; and
- Estimates vary widely as to the total number of irregular immigrants in the country, I will avoid giving you a number that we can stand behind
We are mindful that South Africa is to a great extent a product of historical flows of migrants from Southern Africa, the rest of the African continent and beyond. These migration patterns flowed into sectors which included mining, hospitality, domestic work, commerce and education.
No country in the world with a stronger economy than its neighbours managed to effectively exclude migrants from neighbouring countries seeking work.
A serious challenge is that there is a gap in policy, legislation and systems for economic migration linked to national and regional development. The current permitting regime does not enable the regulation and management of work-seekers with lower levels of skills, including those from the SADC region in spite of actual and historical labour flows. An exception is the corporate work visa, which allows companies to apply for a quota of workers they can then recruit from outside the country, key examples being the mining and agricultural sectors.
South Africa has a legacy of skewed development and high levels of structural unemployment, with most work seekers having low level qualifications. This brings many foreign economic migrants into direct competition for jobs and resources with the poorest of South Africa’s poor, many of whom have migrated to the same urban settlements from rural areas.
Apart from economic migrants from the SADC region, there are smaller numbers of more visible migrants from Asia and other African regions who establish small businesses in inner city areas, former townships, informal settlements and small towns. Tragically, as we have seen previously and in recent weeks, both these categories of migrants are vulnerable to civil unrest, social conflict; and to extortion and exploitation by criminal syndicates and employers.
The economic future of South Africa is firmly tied to that of SADC. However, the economies of SADC are still largely oriented towards the colonial pattern of exporting raw material and internal trade and infrastructure are seriously underdeveloped. Currently, SADC as a region has not developed a coherent policy response to migration beyond reaching an agreement to work towards facilitating the freer movement of people within SADC once sufficient countries have ratified the Protocol.
Key questions arising
The following are some of the key questions I see as presenting themselves in this discussion:
- How might labour flows within SADC be better and strategically managed to benefit all countries, including South Africa?
- Assuming it is not possible to accommodate every economic migrant who wishes to reside in SA, what is the optimal mix and use of levers to limit irregular migration?
- Economic migrants are often perceived as competing with economically marginalised and vulnerable South Africans for opportunities and resources. Does existing research prove or disprove this assertion?
- How can we prevent negative and damaging labour market distortions, where unscrupulous employers use the availability of desperate and vulnerable foreign labour to put downward pressure on wages and labour conditions?
- As a relatively wealthier and more developed country in SADC, and given the role many of these countries played in our liberation struggle, does South Africa have a moral obligation to stretch itself in accommodating some degree of economic migration?
- By regularising large numbers of economic migrants from SADC, would South Africa risk contributing to a moral hazard, undermining the development trajectory of our neighbours by lessening the pressure on these societies to create opportunities for all their citizens?
- Regarding nation-building and social cohesion: How can we bring all citizens along, to be accepting of SADC economic migrants? How can we better integrate migrants into our communities and society as a whole?
Agenda for the day, discussion in two parts
1. Do economic migrants from SADC in SA have a negative, neutral, or positive impact to our economy, particularly in relation to the vulnerable working class and unemployed people of our country?
2. What policy options should we explore for economic migrants from SADC, which can ensure positive regional and national economic and social impact?
a. What would be the essential elements of this policy?
b. What should be avoided or excluded from the policy?
c. Which regions or countries are good examples of elements to include and to avoid?
We have brought you here because we want to hear your perspectives, whether we agree with them or not. We want to: table all the issues; understand all the challenges and opportunities; identify blind spots we may have; and explore key trade-offs.
We look forward to a fruitful discussion.
I thank you.