South Africa plans to introduce employment quotas for foreign nationals as the government grapples with record-high unemployment and a resurgence in anti-migrant sentiment.
A law is being finalized that will cap the number of foreigners that businesses owned by locals can hire, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said.
Three other pieces of legislation dealing with immigration and refugees are also under review.
“If you are a South African business person who opens a restaurant or a factory, there is no law that tells you what to do, you can bring 100% foreign nationals or 100% South Africans,” Motsoaledi said in an interview. “We are saying there is an issue with unemployment and the absence of those quotas.”
About three million of South Africa’s 60 million residents are migrants, according to the national statistics agency, with many attracted by the prospect of finding work in the continent’s most-industrialized economy. But jobs remain in short supply for the unskilled, with the unemployment rate currently standing at a record 35%, and the presence of foreigners has stoked resentment among some locals who see them as competitors for opportunities, housing and other services.
Attacks on migrants in 2008 left at least 22 people and about 6,000 people fled the country. Another outbreak of xenophobic violence in 2015 left dozens dead and saw hundreds of shops ransacked and looted.
The new quota laws have been several years in the making, according to Motsoaledi.
“These are issues that have been raised and have been raised sharply now obviously because unemployment is getting worse and worse, and also because Covid worsened these challenges,” he said.
Some opposition parties have capitalized on the public anger toward foreigners. ActionSA won 16% of the vote in Johannesburg in last year’s municipal elections held just months after its founding and its leader Herman Mashaba, a former mayor of the city, has consistently demanded that undocumented migrants be deported.
And last month, Julius Malema, the leader of the populist Economic Freedom Fighters party attempted to force restaurant owners near Johannesburg to turn over their staff records and instructed them to hire more South Africans and fewer foreigners.