South Africa releases a plan limiting employment of foreign workers

South Africa released a framework that would set quotas on the number of foreign workers. The country is struggling with extremely high unemployment rates and a xenophobic trend blames migrants.

South Africa Minister Thulas Nxesi briefing media on the Draft National Labour Migration Policy
South Africa Minister Thulas Nxesi briefing media on the Draft National Labor Migration Policy | © Government ZA

The Employment and Labor Minister Thulas Nxesi released on February 28 a framework that would set a limit on foreign national employment.

Quotas on foreign workers would be applied in industries like agriculture, tourism, construction and would be set by occupation, sector or region. Companies not respecting quotas could be fined R100,000 (US$6,500).

Employers would also need to justify they can’t find skills they look for among South Africans before hiring a foreign national. Foreign national workers are everyone who don’t have South African citizenship, are not permanent residents or refugees.

Moreover the government also foresees to ban foreign workers to start a business in some sectors. In fact, many migrants start their own informal businesses, as an Uber driver for instance.

Nxesi justified that the new labor migration policy seeks to “strike a balance among conflicting interests”.

South Africa’s unemployment rate at its highest

South Africa struggles with high unemployment rates and the government considers there is a perception in the country that “foreign nationals are distorting labor market access”. The minister argues the distortion comes from desperate migrants ready to be paid very low for informal work.

It has become increasingly apparent, with the rapid expansion of international migration flows that South Africa needs to develop appropriate policy effectively to manage this. South Africa is not immune to international migration trends as well as attempts to exploit this for political gain,” Nxesi said in a statement.

The legislation is for now a draft proposal and published for comments and public review. The consultation process will last 90 days before being modified by the cabinet and sent to Parliament.

The announcement comes as South Africa is struggling with extremely high unemployment rates.

The unemployment rate for the third quarter of 2021 reached 34.9%. It was the level ever recorded by the South Africa Statistics Department since 2018 when it started publishing its quarterly quality labor force survey.

The number of employed persons declined by 660,000 people in just three months, with always more discouraged job-seekers who stop looking for one.

Nxesi said authorities conducted extensive international benchmark to review the labor migration policies in other countries.

There are currently four million foreigners living in South Africa, accounting for 4% of the population and 7% of the workforce according to South Africa’s official data.

The proportion of international migrants in the country is higher than world average but can be relatively small compared to other countries. One in every 30 people (3.3%) is an international migrant globally but figures can vary greatly between countries, with 21% of international migrants making the population of Canada, to 79% in Qatar for instance.

An immigration that doubled in 10 years, episodes of xenophobic violence

South Africa was however the first African destination for international migrants and the 15th in the world in 2019 according to the United Nations. The U.N. also noted a significant increase in international migration within Africa.

In 2005, international migrants made up 2.8% of South Africa’s population. Between 2010 and 2019, the number of international migrants doubled in South Africa, from 2 million to 4 million people. The U.N. explains the country has an “advanced economy and relative political stability”, which attracts “migrants, asylum seekers and refugees from within and outside Southern Africa”.

Xenophobic attacks on migrants have increased over the last 15 years in the country. In May 2008, a nationwide episode killed 41 foreigners. Violence, looting and destruction of property belonging to foreign nationals also happened in 2018 and 2019 with more lives lost.

Outbreaks of xenophobic violence are most common in South Africa’s townships and other economically poor neighborhoods, where residents often blame foreign nationals for high rates of crime and job losses,” the 2020 world migration report pointed out.

Aligning with the National Labor Migration Policy, the Department of Home Affairs also plans to intensify controls of immigration at South African borders.

Discover news about South Africa

Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS), 3rd Quarter 2021, November 2021, Free accessWorld migration report 2020, U.N. migration, Free access, PDF

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