In May, BusinessTech reported on a new Department of Home Affairs white paper, which would compel South Africans who plan to be out of the country for longer than three months to register with the government.
The register was reportedly meant to act as a means of keeping track of South Africans abroad, and curbing the high emigration rate.
On Friday, 28 July, Home Affairs officially gazetted the white Paper for public comment, confirming the original reports.
This marks the first time Home Affairs has included emigration control in official policy, something it directly attributes to the high number of skilled workers and taxes leaving the country.
“Like many other developing countries, South Africa loses a significant proportion of its skilled workforce every year. However, little attention has been paid to maintaining links with South Africans who have settled in other countries,” stated the white paper.
“The current international migration policy framework does not cover citizens who wish or have migrated to other countries. That is, the current international migration policy does not enable South Africa to proactively manage and harness emigration for development purposes.”
“Apart from economic incentives, many emigrants maintain links with South Africa and there are various ways in which they can contribute to national development.”
Using recent census data, the white paper estimated that more than 520,000 South Africans had emigrated between 1989 and 2003, with the numbers growing by about 9% a year.
About 120,000 of those emigrants had professional qualifications.
“This represents about 7% of the total stock of professionals employed in South Africa and is more than eight times the number of professionals immigrating to South Africa in the same period.”
“Another factor to note is that many persons classified as white under apartheid emigrated, mostly in the 1990s, due to push factors that include fear of change and opportunities open to professionals.”
“In recent years, however, white emigrants appear to be outnumbered by growing numbers of black professionals who have joined the global skills market.”
The new registry
According to Home Affairs, South Africa urgently needs to “establish a consensus on how to harness the diaspora to contribute to achieving development goals”.
It set out the following as to how it plans to achieve this:
1) Mandatory registration
Government will enforce mandatory registration of South African citizens who intend to emigrate for a period that is longer than three months.
This will exclude those who are travelling for tourism purposes. The main purpose for this intervention is to maintain strong ties with such citizens in line with the development agenda of the country.
Home Affairs highlighted that this was an extension of the ROSA (Registration of South Africa) system which is currently administered by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).
“The limitation of the current system is that it is voluntary and not focused on those who emigrate for development purposes,” it said.
The current South African Passports and Travel Documents Act will also be amended to make the registration of expatriates mandatory.
2) “Good emigration”
Home Affairs has said it will promote certain forms of emigration to meet varied national goals such as labour and investment exportation and student exchange programmes.
This would include support mechanisms for young people in the country wishing to travel for career development.
3) Targeting South African expatriates
This will include remittances, investment, tourism and the sharing of skills and knowledge, the white paper said.
4) “Embracing the diaspora”
This will include continuation of dual citizenship, effective provision of consular services and country ambassadorial network programmes.
5) Re- integration programmes
This could include induction and other programmes designed to assist returnees in re- adjusting and re- entering the South African labour market and economy, the white paper said.
6) A new state agency
“In order for the objectives of this policy to be realised, an institutional mechanism at a national level with international footprints is required,” the white paper said.
Furthermore, this policy area relics heavily on the involvement of stakeholders, the most important being the DIRCO. Therefore, it is recommended that an inter- agency working structure must be established under the leadership of DIRCO.
The responsibility of the inter- agency structure could include the following:
- Promotion of emigration destinations (information on countries that offer better economic opportunities);
- Collection, analysis and record keeping of South African emigration statistics;
- Proactive management of the ROSA system; and
- Establishment of diaspora desks in missions abroad to facilitate networks with the expatriates.
According to the white paper, the strategic interventions identified above have multiple net benefits.
- The South African economy will receive a boost when expatriates invest their resources and skills into the economy.
- The knowledge, skills and expertise obtained from working abroad will lead to better employment opportunities for expatriates.
- South African citizens will benefit from the increase in economic growth and development resulting from effective emigration management.
“Moreover, the mandatory registration of South African expatriates will enable the country to better understand the spread and profile of its expatriates globally,” it said.
“This will also enable government to provide assistance to them in cases of security threats.”