LATEST: ‘There is no evidence that foreigners are a major cause of unemployment in South Africa’


International migration in South Africa, particularly as it relates to the labour market, is a highly contentious topic.

As migration scholars, we want to share relevant information about this important topic.

Our work shows that international migrants make up only a small percentage of the South African population, and that the overall effect of international immigration on the labour market is not detrimental.

Preliminary data analysis from the 2021 round of the South African Social Attitudes Survey by the Human Sciences Research Council shows that most South Africans see foreign nationals as a threat.

Many believe they are a major source of unemployment and other socio-economic problems.

The general public appear to be misinformed about the impact of migration and how it affects the national labour market. Many of the main misconceptions are anchored in an over-estimation of the number of foreign-born nationals in the country.

Existing public opinion data shows that the general public is woefully misled about the size of the non-national population. But the numbers tell a different story.

Estimating migration is quite complex in that movements are not universal, may or may not occur, and can occur repeatedly.

Nevertheless, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) has been able to estimate international migrant flows in the country

The primary source for these estimates has been three national censuses it’s conducted since the democratic transition (1996, 2001 and 2011).

The 2022 census is currently underway.

Stats SA estimates net immigration to be 852,992 people between 2016 and 2021.

In 2011 Stats SA estimated that the number of people in the country who were born outside South Africa stood at 2.2 million in Census 2011.

The total population in South Africa at that time was about 52 million.

More recently, Stats SA estimates that there were about 3.95 million foreign-born people living in the country at the mid-point of 2021.

This is a relatively small percentage of the overall national population, which stood at around 60 million.

The United Nations Population Division estimated that in 2015, there were about 3.2 million foreign-born people in the country (or 5.8 percent of the total population).

In 2019, this estimate had climbed to 4.2 million or 7.2percent of the nation’s total population.

These statistics counter erroneous suggestions that there are tens of millions of undocumented migrants in South Africa.

It is not possible for Stats SA to identify the number of undocumented migrants living in the country.

However, demographic registration data clearly (and unequivocally) shows that claims about millions of undocumented migrants living in the country are false.

There is no evidence that international migrants are a major cause of unemployment in South Africa.

An analysis of labour migration done by the World Bank in 2018 showed that for every employed migrant in South Africa, two jobs were created for South Africans.

A report published in 2019 by Stats SA showed that international migrants are more likely to be employed than internal migrants and non-movers. However, the work that foreigners generally do does not conform to the Decent Work Framework of the International Labour Organisation.

In 11 of the sub-domains on this framework, the score for international migrants was worst in eight of them.

It would seem that many foreigners are working in indecent conditions.

A recent investigation into the informal sector showed that many migrants working in the informal economy are very vulnerable.

This group was more likely than non-migrants to have poor working conditions. About half (55.6 percent) had not made contributions to the South Africa’s Unemployment Insurance Fund and 40.5 percent had no employment contract.

Of those with a contract, 41.3 percent had one with an unspecified duration.

One of the main talking points around international migration relates to the participation of foreigners in the labour market. Whether looking at the population and housing census of 2011 or the labour migration modules in the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) of 2012 and 2017, foreign participation in the various sectors of the labour market is constant at a maximum of 10–12 percent per sector.

All spheres of government have a responsibility to manage migration with a human rights approach, which is enshrined in South Africa’s constitution.

Local governments, in particular, need to understand and protect the rights of foreign nationals living in their jurisdictions.

Most municipalities do acknowledge the importance of counting their populace to plan better for everyone within their jurisdiction. However, there is often a gross misalignment between services provided and the number of people actually living in a municipality. This is principally due to the paucity of knowledge or skills to translate demographic data.

To understand changes in their population composition, structure, and location, migration data is vital.

Better understanding of migration flows would assist local government officials recognise the contribution of internal and international migration to population change.

In addition, it would help them profile migrants in their spaces to understand economic activities they are engaged in and develop economic and skills transfer programmes to benefit their local population with observed migration patterns.

South Africa has many problems, including an unemployment crisis.

Official unemployment is now close to 35 percent. But the data presented in this article indicates that apportioning these problems – including unemployment – to migrants would be wrong.

It is imperative that the country develop policies to tackle the challenges based on sound evidence and that they’re implemented from this perspective.

South Africa is a signatory to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration as well as the Global Compact for Refugees in 2018.

The non-binding agreements provide a blueprint for migration and refugee governance. Both seek to protect the rights of migrants, and set out how countries can do this.

It is the country’s obligation to aspire to the objectives of these agreements, and to manage the opportunities that migration presents from an evidence-based perspective-The Conversation

UDUUDULSteven Gordon is a senior research specialist at the Human Sciences Research Council.

— Herald

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