South Africa

Critical skills flooding out of South Africa

Highly skilled professionals are leaving South Africa to move to other countries, while the local economy faces a skills shortage.

Data from The Outlier revealed that there were just over 900,000 South Africans living abroad in 2020.

This number has increased steadily over the past 20 years, from 500,000 in 2000, according to Stats SA’s Migration Profile Report for South Africa 2023.

Of these 900,000 people, 7 out of 10 are living in either Europe or Oceania. In particular, Australia and New Zealand have seen a large growth in South African residents. 

In 2020, around 273,000 South Africans were living in those two countries, more than double the 106,000 who lived there in 2000.

The UK remains still the top destination for South Africans who leave the country.

The Outlier revealed that, in March 2021, 205,000 South Africans were living in England and Wales alone, according to the Office for National Statistics. 

Many are highly qualified, with 54% of those aged 16 years and older holding higher education qualifications such as a degree.

A similar trend can be seen in Australia, where 43% of South Africans who have moved there have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

There were 189,207 people born in South Africa living in Australia in 2021, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. 

Over a third (36%) were working as professionals and 15% as managers.

Young professionals leaving South Africa

Last year, the annual 2022/23 Professional Provident Society Student Confidence Index revealed that most South African university students want to leave the country because of crime, corruption, lack of job opportunities, failing infrastructure, and the rising cost of living.

The survey involved 2,400 undergraduates and postgraduates studying towards a profession-specific degree at public and private universities.

The students studied critical skills like engineering, medicine, law, accounting, business management, and psychology.

The survey found that 90% of the university students desired to work and live abroad to gain experience.

What was particularly worrying is that the percentage of students, particularly younger black students, who want to leave jumped from 39% to 90% in two years.

It shows that the country faces a mass exodus of skills as young, qualified South Africans have an overwhelming desire to live and work abroad.


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