Immigration in South Africa: Pastures not so green

Immigration in South Africa: Pastures not so green
  • PublishedAugust 28, 2014

With first world infrastructure, natural beauty, well-functioning systems and institutions, a good economy and democratic governance, there are various reasons why immigrants choose to come to or even settle in South Africa. But as Pusch Commey reports, the melting pot that South Africa is purported to be, is actually not so great when it comes to the thorny issue of hostility towards African immigrants.

It had been in the pipeline for some time. And when it became the law of the land, it sparked consternation. But since the end of apartheid, South Africa has become an attractive destination for immigrants from all over the world, but more so from neighbouring southern African countries. A new amendment to the Immigration Act of 1994 had to be enacted to meet changing circumstances.

Europeans and Americans have found cities like the picturesque Cape Town ideal for retirement and leisure. Then there have been Asians coming mostly from China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Thailand, many of whom have found a niche in business, mostly in the retail, restaurant and entertainment sectors.

However, the largest group of immigrants to South Africa comes from within Africa, either as economic migrants, professionals, refugees or students. Well represented are Zimbabweans, Somalians, Ethiopians, Congolese, Mozambicans, Malawians and Nigerians. 

But it is in the melting pot of the City of Gold, as the migrants’ preferred city – Johannesburg – is nicknamed, that one finds significant numbers of people from every country in Africa, Anglophone, Francophone or Lusophone, apart from those from other parts of the world too. It is not surprising to meet Egyptians, Ivorians, Liberians and Senegalese living on the same street. There have even been cases of inter-marriages between different migrant nationalities.

Sadly however, amid this melée, the widely reported episodes of xenophobic violence against foreigners has given South Africa the bad name of being an anti-immigrant nation. But the reasons behind xenophobia run deep.

In 2007, random attacks on foreigners led to the death of more than 40 people some of whom turned out to be Southern African foreigners who were accused of taking jobs, housing and even women from the locals. The high unemployment rate in South Africa has always fuelled this perception although most foreigners are self-employed.

Attacks and looting of the shops of foreigners, especially Somalis, Bangladeshis, Ethiopians and Pakistanis, has become a common occurrence. The locals are unable to compete with the business skills of the foreign nationals, most of whom come into the country as asylum seekers, and thrive.

The Criminal Justice System has also had to bear its share of the burden. Added to the already high crime rate in the country is a heavy increase in drug trafficking and fraud. Large numbers of drug couriers from South America are filling the prisons on a daily basis, awaiting trial or as convicts. In the courts, magistrates already know which nationalities specialise in drugs, housebreaking, murders, cash heists, bank robberies, motor vehicle theft or general fraud. 

The Immigration Act

The rationale behind the new amendment to the Immigration Act, it is reported, is to legitimately protect South African jobs and businesses as well as to attract only necessary skills and investments.

Signed into law on 16 May 2014, the amendment to the Immigration Act impacts foreigners looking to visit, study, work, live and own a business in South Africa. 

In summation, one cannot change a visitor’s visa status once in the country. This has to be done at a mission in the applicant’s home country. Those who overstay their visa are no longer fined but declared undesirables in the country for long periods of time, depending on the number of violations.

Spouses and life partners applying for a temporary or permanent residence permit have to prove that they have stayed with their loved ones for a minimum of two years. This has been reduced from 5 years. Renewal of other visas while in South Africa has to be done 60 days before they expire. Work permits have additional stringent requirements as well as for a business or intra- company permit. Amongst others, restrictions have been placed on study visas, retirement visas and asylum transit permits.

Written By
Pusch Commey

Pusch Commey is a Barrister of the High Court of South Africa, Award winning writer and associate editor of New African Magazine since 1999. He is based in Johannesburg South Africa. He is the author of 9 books including the best selling 100 great African kings and queens, and Tofi's Fire Dance. He is also the CEO of the South African based Real African Publishers, and the founder of the Real African Writers  series.

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