South Africa’s New Draft Policy On International Migration
The South African Department of Home Affairs recently published a Green Paper on International Migration (Government Gazette 40088) for public comments.
It argues that the current international migration policy should be replaced with a new managed migration approach that is in line with the African development agenda. A number of developments in recent years have demanded policy reform. South Africa has become a major tourist destination, transit hub for air travellers in Africa, popular venue for international events, and a major player in areas such as film making and astronomy.
It is also experiencing large shortages of skilled workers in most economic sectors. In 2014, more than 15 million arrivals of foreign visitors were recorded by the Department of Home Affairs of which 90 percent involved Southern African Development Community (SADC) nationals. South Africa is also host to the largest number of refugees and asylum-seekers on the continent and the fifth largest in the world. And many African countries are liberalising their immigration regimes in line with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 vision; urging South Africa to follow suit. The Green Paper argues it is neither desirable nor possible to stop or reduce international migration.
Its point of reference is that international migration is, in general, beneficial if it is well-managed. The Green Paper highlights seven policy areas for intervention in the current policy. The implementation of a new immigration policy will start with the introduction of a more efficient and effective traveller identification management system. A risk-based approach to migration ensures that undesirable persons are detected at the source country and prevented from travelling to South Africa. This can, in fact, facilitate movement of legitimate travellers by granting bona fide travellers long-term multiple entry visas and self-service immigration clearance through automated gates at points of entry. In a media statement issued at the beginning of 2016 the Department announced the abolishment of transit visa requirements for all travellers transiting through South African International Airports. In future, legitimate travel and trade in the SADC region will be facilitated by integrated border controls to be implemented by a new border management authority that will be responsible for all official points of entry and the borderline.
This will also entail the rationalisation of official points of entry, the establishment of one-stop border posts, preclearance of travellers at the perimeter of a border post to enforce port of entry security, and the regulation of informal border crossings. All border officials will share a common identity whilst carrying out their respective mandates such as health, security or customs. In future, the granting of residency and naturalisation will be based on strategic goals to enrich society and build the nation. Unlike the current situation which effectively creates automatic qualification for permanent residence and subsequently citizenship provided certain conditions are met. For example, immigrants can qualify for permanent residence depending on a certain period of stay in the country, irrespective of the type of visa they hold. Even refugees can apply for permanent residence on this basis. The Green Paper proposes that there should not be automatic progression or right to permanent residence or citizenship.
The granting of citizenship should be delinked from permanent residence and should be considered as being exceptional. Skilled workers are in short supply. The current policy for granting visas to skilled or well-resourced people is ineffective and inflexible. It is proposed that the attraction of migrants with skills, investment and business interests should be linked to a points-based system that is transparent, less reliant on published critical skills lists and more flexible to changing situations and needs. A new long-term work visa could be introduced to those with special skills, investment or business interests. These long-term visas will be granted to a family as a unit, enabling all members to study and work. In an effort to attract and retain international students, it proposes to grant permanent residence or long-term work visas to international graduates from local universities. A large number of South Africans with valuable skills have emigrated. A strategy should be developed to foster ties with diaspora communities in order to reap the full benefits of South Africans working and studying abroad. The Green Paper proposes that detention centres should be erected at borders.