‘New’ type of emigration hitting South Africa – and young professionals are behind the drive

 ·22 May 2023

South Africans have been emigrating for several reasons over the years – mainly safety and economic stability – however, the work-from-home revolution and quality education have emerged as notable reasons why younger South Africans are now choosing to leave.

This is according to the heads of Standard Bank’s Offshore and Consumer & HNW Clients divisions, who have highlighted some notable shifts in emigration trends since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Whilst many emigrate to seek a more stable economy, a safer environment, and general stability, there have also been a few surprising developments. As more South Africans choose to explore the global landscape, education has become the true cornerstone of this shift, as there’s been an increase in the amount of South Africans moving abroad to study, the bank said.

According to Sable International Study Abroad’s managing director, Brent Morris, an average of 11,000 South Africans study overseas annually, and the most popular destinations are the USA, UK, Australia and Germany.

English-speaking countries top the list, but surprisingly, many of these students don’t necessarily remain in the country where they study; they often use their time studying abroad to open doors, such as permanently living abroad or digital nomad visas.

Additionally, according to BrandMapp, it’s not only first-time students who are interested in studying abroad. Professionals wanting to further their education are also more interested in doing so abroad.

While education opportunities partly account for the increase in young South Africans travelling abroad, many are also now deciding to travel and work while they do it – allowing them to travel to their wishlist destinations without the opportunity cost of taking a break from work or having to take leave for their paying jobs.

“Young people are travelling more, and for longer – and they’re working while they do it,” said Kabelo Makeke, Head of Consumer & HNW Clients at Standard Bank.

This has created an entirely new kind of ‘emigration’; a temporary arrangement whereby remote workers are allowed to reside in another country while still working for home-based companies”.

Digital nomads are a real thing now, and many people make their livelihoods whilst travelling around the world and calling different countries home, at least for a while, added Makeke.

This is particularly true for the 25-34 age group, with young professionals living abroad whilst working for South African businesses.

So while their relocation might not be permanent (to be able to work as a digital nomad, you will need a specific digital nomad visa), he said these individuals are certainly living emigrant-style lives.

According to Getaway, some of the countries that are currently the most popular for digital nomads are Georgia, Estonia, Norway, Costa Rica, Bermuda, Mexico, Portugal, Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, Greece, France, Croatia, Malta, Iceland, Mauritius, Barbados, and Dubai.

“South Africans are not only studying abroad more, but they’re also living abroad whilst working for South African companies, creating a truly global economy and job market,” said Erik Olwagen, Head of Distribution, Standard Bank Offshore.

“This adds an entirely new aspect to emigration and the exposure and expertise these travellers will hopefully bring back to South Africa,” he added.

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