The general public seems to be poorly informed about the impact of migration and how it affects the national labor market.
A woman positions a burning tire as members of the community protest against rising crime in the Diepsloot region of South Africa on April 6, 2022. Photo: GUILLEM SARTORIO/AFP
This article was first published on The conversation.
International migration to South Africa, particularly in relation to the labor market, is a hotly debated topic. We, the undersigned Migration Specialists, want to share relevant information on this important topic. Our work shows that international migrants represent only a small percentage of the South African population and that the overall effect of international immigration on the labor market is not detrimental.
Preliminary analysis of data from the 2021 cycle of the South Africa Social Attitude Survey speak Humanities Research Council finds 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 seems to be poorly informed about the impact of migration and how it affects the national labor market. Many of the major misconceptions are rooted in an overestimation of the number of foreign-born nationals in the country.
As the undersigned, we are committed to developing effective policies and interventions that will provide South Africans with the economic and physical security they deserve. Nor do we wish to ignore the daily economic and social difficulties they face. To do this, we must ensure that our interventions are based on the best facts available. Our aim is to provide the most relevant and reliable evidence regarding migration and labor migration in particular.
THE NUMBER OF MIGRANTS
How many foreign nationals live in South Africa?
Existing data on public opinion show that the general public is terribly misled about the non-national population size. But the numbers tell a different story.
Estimating migration is quite complex in that movements are not universal, may or may not occur, and may occur repeatedly.
Nevertheless Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) was able to estimate the flows of international migrants in the country. The main source of these estimates has been three national censuses conducted since the democratic transition (1996, 2001 and 2011). The 2022 census is currently underway.
Stats SA estimates net immigration at 852 992 people between 2016 and 2021.
In 2011, Stats SA estimated the number of people in the country born outside of South Africa to be 2.2 million at the 2011 census. The total population of South Africa at that time was approximately 52 million.
More recently, Stats SA estimates that there were approximately 3.95 million foreign-born people living in the country as of mid-2021. This is a relatively small percentage of the overall national population, which s amounted to approximately 60 million.
The United Nations Population Division has estimated that in 2015, there were about 3.2 million foreign-born people in the country (or 5.8% of the total population). In 2019this estimate had climbed to 4.2 million or 7.2% of the country’s total population.
These statistics contradict erroneous suggestions that there is Tens of millions 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.
FOREIGN-BORN MIGRANTS AND JOB CREATION
There is no evidence that international migrants are a major cause of unemployment in South Africa. An analysis of labor migration conducted by the World Bank in 2018 showed that for every migrant employed 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 Decent work framework of the International Labor Organization. In 11 of the sub-domains of this framework, the score of international migrants was the worst in eight of them. It would seem that many foreigners work in indecent conditions.
A recent survey in 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%) had not contributed to the South African Unemployment Insurance Fund and 40.5% had no employment contract. Among those who had a contract, 41.3% had one for an indefinite period.
One of the main topics of discussion around international migration concerns the participation of foreigners in the labor market. Whether it is the 2011 Population and Housing Census or the labor migration modules of the Quarterly Labor Force Survey (EQFT) of 2012 and 2017foreign participation in the various sectors of the labor market is constant at a maximum of 10 to 12% per sector.
Table 1 shows the participation of foreign-born people in certain sectors of the economy. There is no reason to suspect that this has increased significantly since 2017.
All spheres of government have a responsibility to manage migration with a human rights approach, which is enshrined in constitution of south africa. Local governments, in particular, need to understand and protect the rights of foreign nationals living on their territory.
Most municipalities recognize the importance of counting their population in order to better plan for everyone within their jurisdiction. However, there is often a glaring discrepancy between the services provided and the number of people actually living in a municipality. This is mainly due to the lack of knowledge or skills to translate demographic data.
To understand changes in their population composition, structure and location, migration data are essential. A better understanding of migration flows would help local authorities to recognize the contribution of internal and international migration to demographic change.
Furthermore, it would help them to profile migrants in their spaces to understand the economic activities in which they are engaged and develop economic and skills transfer programs to benefit their local population with observed migration patterns.
A NEW PERSPECTIVE
South Africa has many problems, including an unemployment crisis. Official unemployment is now close to 35%. But the data presented in this article indicate that attributing these problems – including unemployment – to migrants would be a mistake.
It is imperative that the country develop policies to address the challenges based on solid evidence and that they are implemented with this in mind.
South Africa is a signatory to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration as good as Global Compact for Refugees in 2018. Non-binding agreements provide a model for migration and refugee governance. Both seek to protect the rights of migrants and explain how countries can achieve this.
It is the obligation of the country to aspire to the objectives of these agreements and to manage the opportunities that migration presents from a factual point of view.
The statement on which this article is based was signed by:
Diego Iturralde (Statistics SA) Itani Ntsieni (Statistics SA) Prof. Mark Collinson (Wits School of Public Health and MRC, University of the Witwatersrand) Nompumelelo Nzimande (University of KwaZulu-Natal) Hangwelani Magidimisha (University of KwaZulu-Natal) Dr. Steven Gordon (Human Sciences Research Council) Ottilia Maunganidze (Institute for Security Studies) Lizette Lancaster (Institute for Security Studies) Godfrey Mulaudzi (Institute for Security Studies) Jacques van Zuydam (Department of Social Development) Prof. Jonathan Crush (Balsillie School and University of the Western Cape) Dr. Thabi Leoka (economist) Prof. David Everatt (School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand) Dr. Sasha Frade (Department of Demography and Population Studies, University of the Witwatersrand)
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