|Admitted as an attorney in 1985 Chris Watters practices exclusively in the field of immigration law. Chris is the Vice-Chairperson of the Immigration Law Committees of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces and the Law Society of South Africa. He is a member of the SA Law Reform Commission's project team on immigration law and is a former member of the Immigration Advisory Board. He is a member of the US-based Association of Business Immigration Lawyers [www.abil.com]. Chris Watters Attorneys [firstname.lastname@example.org] assists in all aspects of temporary and permanent residence permit applications, immigration enforcement ‘disputes' and refugee law matters.|
It is well-known, except perhaps to one or other Government spokesperson, that South Africa is plagued by a skills shortage and endemic un- or under-employment. At the same time one of the many other tragedies of South African society is that it is a country where more than a few people feel driven to leave the country. It is an open secret that more people emigrate from SA than immigrate to SA.
We only have to take a quick look at the criteria for emigration to the ‘major’ destinations (US, UK, Canada and Australia) to see that the people who leave and emigrate legally are going to be people with money, tertiary qualifications and proven entrepreneurial skills.
This target group would ordinarily play a significant role in South Africa in terms of job creation, widening the tax base and improving our economic efficiencies and competitiveness. And, onc cannot forget that emigrating is generally considered one of the most stressful things you can do in your lifetime; packing up and trying to re-establish your life in another country and culture. What drives people to do this? There can be any number of factors. But in recent years it is clear that there is increasing uncertainty as to the future direction and security of the country. As one couple said to me very recently – rightly or wrongly – “we don’t want to wake up to find ourselves and our children caught up in a civil war.” And you can ask the various Embassies – this is not a colour issue.
But if weekend media reports are to be believed, instead of trying to address the source of these fears the way the ANC has reportedly sought to respond prudently to the challenges posed by the recent local election results, the response to people fearing that they have no choice but to leave, has been little short of “good riddance to bad rubbish.”
This response stands in stark contrast to the analysis of the country‘s challenges tabled in the recently-released National Planning Commission’s Diagnostic Overview. Indeed, also at the weekend, Joel Netshitenzhe was quoted in the Sunday Independent, as saying that “a revolutionary phrase at the wrong time can defeat revolution” – in summarising his critique of other recent sound bites that could have done little to allay the fears of those people who are considering emigration.
So why are some senior political figures driven to this knee jerk equivalent of “well, sod off then”? How can this possibly help to offer the disenchanted youth a credible and sustainable stake in the economy when all we are doing is driving away some of the very people we need, to head off the potential conflict with the youth?
And it is not just emigration that is affected by these unfortunate sound bites. When people are looking to relocate from other countries with their skills or their retirement funds, they are not going to place themselves and their families at risk by heading to a destination that some feel is becoming a tinder box, once again, as a result of unchecked public statements of equally public figures.
The motivations for, and challenges of, emigration and immigration need to be better understood. They need to be responded to maturely and not with silly, irresponsible sound bites. South Africa is not in a position to play ‘footsie footsie’ about its economic recovery and job creation initiatives – and the very people who can help make that happen.