Sout Africa's rigid immigration regime to undergo sweeping changes

HOME Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor has promised sweeping changes to South Africa's immigration regime to make it easier for foreign businesses and investors to come to the country and to improve competitiveness in the global skills market. The existing immigration situation is frequently criticised as being too restrictive, and in effect a disincentive to foreign businesses.

South Africa also suffers each year from a net loss of skills as qualified people emigrate to other countries.

Introducing her budget vote in an extended public committee of the National Assembly on Thursday, Ms Pandor said South Africa should provide clearer guidance about the numbers and skills needed, and "we want those with the right skills to come here: the investors and the entrepreneurs who will create the businesses and the jobs of tomorrow, and the scientists who will help keep South Africa at the heart of the great advances in medicine, biotech, advanced manufacturing and communications. They merit a permit policy that shows we are ready to compete with other countries for global talent.

"In regard to business, we've increased the opportunities for foreign investors and entrepreneurs — 1,346 visas were issued to entrepreneurs in 2011. We are on track to issue more than we did last year. We also plan to increase efficiency in issuing permits to investors in South Africa. Currently we issue waivers for employees of many multinational corporations. We have had many complaints about delays in issuing permits — we are addressing these concerns. I'm aware that some companies prefer to use staff from their overseas headquarters in their South African branches.

"Government has an obligation to promote job creation and skills development for South Africans. Our immigration system must help us to respond to this challenge while also welcoming investment."

She said the target for attracting scarce skills had been 50,000 permits issued in 2011 but that only about 20,000 were issued and that the Immigration Advisory Board would look into this area again. "We are finalising the regulations for the 2011 Immigration Amendment Act.

"They will streamline the process of scientists applying for work permits. The Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Higher Education will assist us in reducing the bottlenecks being experienced in evaluating visa and permit requests for scientists and researchers.

"If we manage immigration competently, we can attract critical skills to expand the economy and promote trade and investment for job creation and development.

"We have to compete globally to attract the best and the brightest to work with us in building a better South Africa in a better Africa," Ms Pandor said.

Deputy Home Affairs Minister Fatima Chohan reported to the House on a reduction in the numbers of asylum seekers entering the country.

"In our reception centres, our efforts have in large measure been focused on improving efficiencies in dealing with applications for asylum," she said. "In this regard, we have been mindful that genuine asylum seekers were not best served by the prolonged periods that they had to endure while their matters were adjudicated.

"We implemented a fast-track system, first at the Durban refugee reception centre, and are doing likewise in Musina and Pretoria. Our preliminary findings indicate positive trends in that the number of asylum seeker applications has decreased quite dramatically, particularly at the Durban centre.

"We are pleased to announce an overall decrease in the number of asylum seekers who have come into our centres throughout the country. In 2010, we received a total of (185,918) applications for asylum. In 2011, this figure dropped to 87,020 applications and last year the figure reduced further to 85,058," Ms Chohan said.

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