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Future Challenges | South Africa |

South Africa International Migration in South Africa

Future Challenges

Jan-Berent Schmidt

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South Africa has attracted immigrants since colonial times. For a long time, the country's migration policy was managed along racist selection criteria. This approach was abandoned only after the end of Apartheid. Yet, Xenophobia, to date, is a huge social problem and one of the major challenges the country's future migration policy has to face.

A women flees from ongoing xenophobia clashes in Johannesburg 2008: The widespread xenophobia is a result of the political failures and socio-economic injustices of the post-Apartheid-era. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

Skilled Labor Migration and Cooperation with the Member States of the South African Development Community (SADC)

One of the main future challenges for migration policy in South Africa will be the emigration of highly skilled labor. The causes for this emigration arise primarily from dissatisfaction with the social and economic situation in this country. This clearly underlines the necessity of improving the economic and societal development of South Africa. This is one of the intended aims of easing the free movement of people within the SADC-region. First steps were introduced in 2005 with the Protocol on the Facilitation of Movement of Persons. This is part of an SADC-initiative to develop and introduce strategies which lower the hurdles for the cross-border mobility of goods and labor between the states in the region. This would make it easier for people residing in the region to work in other member states and move there permanently. Until now, however, only South Africa has ratified the Protocol. It is believed that easing the movement of labor would strengthen the migration processes and economic interdependencies between South Africa and the other SADC-states. However, this could potentially lead to new conflicts, for instance when South Africa’s neighboring countries become weakened by the emigration of their own skilled labor.

The Orientation of Migration Policy and Xenophobia

South Africa’s migration policy continues to be shaped by its very restrictive basic understanding of migration. However, not only the shortage of skilled labor in this country demonstrates the clear necessity to open up politically. Migration policy must also put more consideration into the economic development and social inequality in South Africa. At the same time, it is important to take into account the effects of immigration upon the countries sending migrants, especially the neighboring countries. Furthermore, there need to be efforts to change the image of migrants, so they are no longer seen as a threat. It is also essential to combat xenophobia in the South African population. The widespread xenophobia is a result of the political failures and socio-economic injustices of the post-Apartheid-era.

Integration, the Asylum System, Data Availability

Migration movements, which in South Africa also constitute processes of urbanization, bring about great challenges especially for the local authorities who have to deal with them. Some communities have already recognized that migration can be an important factor for their economic development. However, there is still no coherent strategy at the national level to socially integrate migrants, whether they are internal migrants or international immigrants.

The asylum system also needs to be reformed. Until now the State's position toward asylum-seekers has been ambivalent. On the one hand South Africa is obligated to fulfill international human rights agreements. On the other hand, refugees and asylum-seekers are granted no or limited rights in this respect. Migration policy has also failed to ensure the collection of data on migration movements in, out of, and to South Africa. Statistics are often lacking, out-of-date, or contradictory, which makes a clear overview of the developments in this area more difficult.

This text is part of the Interner Link: country profile South Africa.



  1. Pendleton et al. (2007).

  2. SADC (2014); Crush/Dodson (2007); Arnold (2012); Segatti (2011a).

  3. Crush (2008); Crush et al. (2005).

  4. Landau et al. (2011b).

  5. Also this country profile has to contend with this faulty statistical base. The data available was often no more current than the data presented here.


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Jan-Berent Schmidt is member of staff of the Research Network Osnabrück and enrolled in the master's program "Economic and Social Geography" at the University of Osnabrück, Germany.
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