South Africa is facing a skills crisis as the country is losing many of the skilled professionals it produces, and the government is making it impossible for skilled foreigners to immigrate to the country.
Cilliers said the South African government is blocking the tremendous potential that skilled foreign professionals can bring to South Africa through its punitive approach to immigration.
“The situation is terrible. If we want to grow the economy, then we must attract and retain skilled people.”
However, the South African government’s approach to immigration is to keep foreigners out of the country no matter what skills or knowledge they bring.
At the same time, South Africa is a large exporter of skills to more developed nations such as Canada, the UK, the US, and Australia.
“We are losing a significant number of skilled people, and yet, they make all the difference to an economy by creating jobs, investment, and transferring knowledge,” Cilliers said.
The government has failed to implement measures to improve the situation by streamlining the process of acquiring a work visa for South Africa.
Two years ago, the Home Affairs director-general submitted a report to the Minister of Home Affairs with recommendations on how to make South Africa’s visa approval process more efficient.
None of the recommendations have been implemented as yet.
“We have a situation where Home Affairs and Labour are actively working against the Presidency, or the Presidency is not working with them to solve this issue,” Cilliers said.
This has resulted in South Africa taking a punitive approach to immigration. “We literally do our best to make it as difficult as possible to enter South Africa.”
The country is not only losing skills but actively deterring foreign skills, according to Cilliers.
Business in South Africa is severely impacted by this directly through the loss of skills and indirectly through decreasing foreign investment.
Cilliers gave the example of a German company which sold its South African subsidiary as it could not get a work permit for a German executive.
No democratic country that Cilliers is aware of has the same kind and number of requirements as South Africa. “It seems to be an absolute disaster.”
South Africa must develop a system that can tackle the often illegal immigration of unskilled foreigners while being able to attract and retain skilled workers.
The immigration of skilled workers has tremendous benefits for long-term economic growth. “Bringing knowledge into your country through immigration is like investing in research in development, but cheaper,” Cilliers said.
“South Africans do not believe that skilled foreigners benefit the country. They believe foreigners come to threaten locals and take their jobs, when the opposite is true – they bring in skills and create employment.”