Mass exodus of skilled South Africans – and the jobs they’re tapping into

 ·28 Apr 2024

Data from several statistical bodies show an escalating trend of highly skilled South Africans—professionals, managers, and tradespeople—moving abroad to countries like the United Kingdom and Australia, with fewer returning home.

According to the latest data from the Migration Profile Report for South Africa 2023, the number of South Africans living abroad has increased by 82% over the past 20 years—from around 501,600 to 914,901.

Seven out of 10 South African expats live in Europe or Oceania, while Australia and New Zealand have seen a large growth in South African residents.

The report noted that the number of South Africans in Australia increased by 150% over the 20-year period and by 190% in New Zealand.

However, the United Kingdom (UK) has the most South Africans, followed by Australia, the USA, New Zealand, and Canada.

According to the UK Office of National Statistics’ latest census, 205,000 South Africans live in England and Wales, and many of them are highly qualified.

More than half (54%) of those aged 16 years and older hold higher education qualifications such as a degree.

This remains true with regard to those who have moved to Australia, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics noting that 43% of South African expats have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The latest census conducted by the Australian authority showed that around 189,207 people born in South Africa live in Australia.

Interestingly, the census also provided the jobs taken up by many of the South African expats in Australia.

The data—compiled by The Outlier— shows that one third (36%) of the South African-born people living there were working as professionals, with popular examples being doctors, teachers, accountants, and lawyers.

15% hold management roles, while other notable jobs include:

  • Clerical and admin;
  • Tradespeople and technicians;
  • Community and personal services;
  • Sales;
  • Labourers; and
  • Machinery operators and drivers.

Why they’re leaving

A recent survey conducted by the Inclusive Society Institute (ISI) found that the number of young skilled professionals wishing to leave has increased, and the main reason for this is job opportunities.

“Concerningly, the data showed that the number of South Africans wanting to leave the country increased with qualification levels and remuneration or wealth,” ISI CEO Daryl Swanepoel said.

Even more concerning, however, is that Swanepoel noted that skilled South Africans between the ages of 18 and 24 years are the most likely to emigrate – with 13.56% seriously considering the move compared to the 9% average.

Economic and personal well-being considerations mainly drove South Africans who indicated their intention to emigrate.

23.18% of South Africans who indicated that they were considering emigration cited better job opportunities as the rationale for their consideration, while 9.79% suggested overall better opportunities.

9.69% cited a better life/standard of living as the reason. A failing South African state and lousy governance were the other contenders in the top five.

Read: Businesses in South Africa are struggling with the ‘new normal’

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