Big jump in South Africans looking to emigrate – here’s why, and where they want to go

 ·14 Jun 2023

Escalations in unemployment rates, stagnant economic growth, and diplomatic and political uncertainty – fueled by the worst loading shedding on record – have resulted in many South Africans looking to leave the country, most of whom are eying the United Kingdom.

Since the start of 2022, load shedding has been the catalyst of the deterioration of South Africa’s economy, as input costs of economic production in the country have become significantly more expensive.

As a result, business sectors – including food producers, retailers, and manufacturers – have forked out billions of rands to stave off rolling outages.

This, in turn, has meant that job opportunities have become scarce, food inflation has risen to a 14-year high, and disposable income has been eroded. At the same time, pay increases are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living in South Africa.

According to the SARB’s latest stability review, looking over the past couple of years, load shedding quintupled (4.7x times) between 2021 and 2022 when measured in Gigawatt hours, and the Gigawatt hours load shed in 2022 was 11,679 GWh in total.

So far in 2023, as of 21 May, the country has experienced approximately 1,000 GWh that has been shed, confirming that the first five months of 2023 have seen more GWh shed than the whole of 2022.

South Africans want out

These many adverse and snowballing effects have resulted in a big spike in South Africans wanting to leave the country.

“Over the past two years, we have seen quite a big jump in the number of candidates expressing their interest in seeking opportunities overseas,” said JP Breytenbach, the Director of Breytenbachs Immigration Consultants.

He added that South Africans have frequently cited a lack of growth opportunities in South Africa as a driving factor for their decision to move their families abroad.

Breytenbach also noted that recent diplomatic and political instability has also caused a spike in emigration enquiries.

“It is evident that with each political tension event in South Africa, the number of enquiries about moving abroad jumps significantly,” he said.

These events include political tension and prospective enactment of new legislation (which might be viewed as detrimental to some), economic tension and political reactions such as the Durban and Gauteng lootings in 2021.

According to the United Nations’ (UN) latest International Migrant Stock report, the UK has the most migrant stock from South Africa, with almost a quarter of a million residents listing RSA as their birth country. Australia, the USA and New Zealand follow.

This is partly due to these countries (of which the UK is a big contributor) having implemented specific changes to immigration systems over the past years to attract skilled labour and talent to apply their trait in a foreign jurisdiction, said Breytenbach.

He added that the UK has always been a popular emigration destination for South Africans for several reasons, including:

  • No language or cultural barriers;
  • Easy to fly to and from South Africa and the UK;
  • The UK is the hub of economic activity in Europe; and
  • A large community of South Africans already living in the UK.

The numbers

Tracking the emigration of taxpayers is not officially done; therefore, it is often a complex figure to nail down.

However, the latest data from SARS shows that, over the last five years, over 40,500 taxpayers have ended their tax residency in South Africa.

In a parliamentary Q&A in May 2023, the finance minister approximated that around 2,700 of these individuals earned more than R500,000 per year, and 1,100 earned more than R1 million per year – amounting to R1.3 billion in assessed tax.

Additionally, Henley & Partners’ latest Wealth Migration Report 2023 showed South Africa saw 400 High Net-Worth Individuals (HNWI) emigrate in 2022, with 500 expected to leave in 2023.

HNWIs are defined as people with a net worth of over US$1 million (approximately R19 million).

However, even more alarming is that South Africa’s big drop in millionaires between 2021 and 2022 can be attributed to the massive destruction of wealth in the country rather than the super-rich leaving.

The latest African Wealth Report for 2023 shows that South Africa was home to 37,800 US dollar millionaires at the end of 2022, down from 39,300 recorded at the end of 2021 – a loss of 1,500 HNWIs.

If only an estimated 400 of these HNWIs emigrated that year, the remaining 1,100 millionaires lost their millionaire status, seeing their net worth drop below the US$1 million mark due to the prevailing economic conditions in the country.

Read: South Africans are semigrating to these three provinces – all for different reasons

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter