400 000 SA ‘repats’ have come

400 000 SA ‘repats’ have come home, but brain drain persists

While as many South Africans as live in central Cape Town have returned to the Beloved Country since 2008, state immigration policies mean that South Africa’s brain drain remains as serious as ever, a new report shows

400 000 SA ‘repats’ have come


The expatriates who brought majestic Durban vowels, clipped Jozi English and Cape Town slang to the world’s most dynamic cities are, in part, streaming back to South Africa. The reasons are as diverse as the number of South Africans who left, but some major themes predominate, as a new report from JSE-listed human capital management group Adcorp shows.

Surveys have shown that the push factors (those pushing South Africans out of the country) are chiefly political and security-related, while the pull factors that attract South Africans to the first world are mostly financial. While the pull factors have scarcely changed – South Africa is not very noticeably safer or more stable than it was in the peak emigration years – the financial situation abroad most definitely has. South Africans in Europe have been particularly hard-hit by a grindingly slow recovery from the global financial crisis, in which the jobs and optimism that vanished in 2008 have taken far longer than expected to return.

According to the Adcorp report, released this month, South Africans are returning home in significant numbers. While lack of job security and falling spending power are an important factor driving skilled South Africans back home, the financial implications of the move are not the full story: despite relatively higher buying power in Mzansi, most repats still face a steep drop in personal income when they resettle inside South Africa.

The reasons repats come home, on the whole, are deeper and harder to define: anecdotally, it’s a simple desire to reconnect with family and personal networks, a desire for the South African quality of life, and the desire to raise families with familiar values.

South African expats concur in forums and on the social media that the financial lure of earning British pounds, for example, counted for far more when they were young and starting out; those in mid-career who are thinking of establishing families tend to favour the discipline and respect for adults expected of South African children, the outdoor and family-orientated culture (including entertaining at home and in the garden) and the enduring quality and affordability of South Africa’s private schools as major pull factors.

According to the Adcorp report, just under 400 000 South Africans – as many as live in Brighton and Hove in the UK, or in central Cape Town – have returned to South Africa between 2008 and 2013. However, the number of vacancies for skilled positions in the country remains comfortably twice this number – about 830 000. South Africa’s desperate skills shortage is especially pronounced in engineering, management, medicine and finance. As the report suggests, if South Africa is to keep growing, the government must relax visa restrictions and import skilled foreign labour as a matter of urgency.

“To a great extent, the shortage of highly-skilled workers has been artificially induced by the Immigrations Act (2002), which makes it exceedingly difficult for foreigners to find work in South Africa. The most recent amendments to the Immigrations Act, promulgated in April 2011, prohibit the use of immigration agents and quota work permits, both of which have historically been widely used by South African companies seeking foreign skills” says Loane Sharp, an Adcorp labour economist.


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