Refreshing honesty and some good ideas, not without problems – South Africa’s draft migration policy Green Paper
The long-awaited Green Paper on International Migration, published at the end of June and open for public comment until 30 September, will lead to the development of a White Paper which will then form the basis of new immigration legislation, as well as amendments to other related pieces of law. It will likely take another few years for this process to be completed. It is the first time in 17 years that immigration policy has been comprehensively reviewed, and changes made to immigration laws during this time have often been haphazard and lacking strategic direction and alignment.
The paper names existing challenges clearly, honestly and accurately, which in itself is a refreshing change (“its systems are outdated, there is grossly inadequate capacity and the entire operational budget for immigration functions is less than a billion rand.”). At its launch, Minister Gigaba said, “SA needs to start a conversation on the importance of international migration so that there can be consensus on its contribution to meeting broadly supported national goals.” (such as inclusive economic growth, e.g. through skills acquisition). The paper recognizes that the discourse has been polarized, emotional and poorly informed between those who call for stricter rules and those who call for their relaxation. The paper claims that rather than having to be an either/or scenario, both needs can be met.
Some of the proposals are:
- Big Brother protecting the borders – in a “risk-management” approach, visa applicants will be checked for their complete official history, including secret service, police, tax authorities, trade and industry, health and transport. More checks to be done through missions and airlines prior to arrival, in addition to the already-implemented biometric checks, with the aim of achieving relief on the side of efficiency for bona fide travelers and migrants (e.g. long-term multi-entry visas for academics, business people and tourists, including self-service gates).
- “African passports” - In line with the African Union’s Agenda 2063, to have a visa-free regime across Africa by 2018; there is still a long way to go in building the necessary systems for this to work.
- Citizenship and permanent residence not for the ordinary guy – No more right to citizenship or permanent residence purely on the basis of being in the country for a minimum time (this currently applies to spouses, workers and refugees); permanent residence and especially citizenship to be a special privilege, granted strategically and quickly to those who are seen to bring benefits to the country, especially skills or investment.
- Work and business visas easier for those who are “desirable” - Requirements to be more flexible and decisions to be made more strategically and quickly and based on better analysis of information; points-based system to attract migrants with skills, investment and business interests, similar to those of Australia, the UK and Canada; accompanying families to have easy access to study and work visas. BUT more emphasis and enforcement of skills transfer to locals – either through direct or indirect in-house mechanisms or via levies or financial contributions to training schemes. Workers with skills which are not “critical skills” will be given preference if they are from the SADC region; possibility of a SADC Special Visa for work, trade and SME businesses.
- Retaining international graduates – either offering direct permanent residence or direct long-term visa to foreign students who graduate from local universities; possibly for any degree and any field.
- Drastic reduction of asylum seekers rights – the relative ease of applying for asylum and automatically being allowed to work, study or run a business for a few years (until a decision is made), has made this an attractive route compared to the stringent visa procedures, causing wide-spread abuse of the system, social instability and leaving genuine applicants vulnerable. Changes to the Refugee Act are being made to remove the automatic right to work, study or conduct business, and to no longer allow asylum seekers to settle anywhere in the country, forcing them to stay in “centres” until their status is determined, which is hoped to be a disincentive to economic migrants.
Once one has sobered up from the joy of reading an honest analysis of the challenges that exist in visa and immigration administration in South Africa, the policy paper reads like an attempt to marry the tough, capitalist immigration stance of Western countries with an embracing Ubuntu approach towards our African neighbours. It raises a number of concerns regarding rights of applicants and especially refugees and spouses, and it bizarrely appears to aim towards treating families of skilled workers and investors better than families of South African citizens. Major systems and an entirely new apparatus will have to be built to make the various innovations (the points-based visa system alone) functional, and significant resources and time and an appropriate phasing-in would be required for this. Historically, Home Affairs has the tendency to simply adopt changes over night, without much (or any) warning, training or required technical systems, and this has usually resulted in chaos. Let us hope that the current leadership is more prudent.
Have your say – find the Green Paper here http://www.dha.gov.za/files/GreenPaper_on_InternationalMigration-%2022062016.pdf, and the guidelines for comment here http://www.dha.gov.za/files/GUIDELINES_FOR_CONSULTATION_29062016.pdf.
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