South Africa's new immigration regulations should be restructured in order to avoid the adverse unintended consequences they could have on the economy.
The controversial immigration regulations, which came into effect on 26 May 2014, set stringent conditions for visa applications for foreigners, including for work; the establishment of businesses; and for the spouses and partners of foreigners working in South Africa.
"There are real and legitimate concerns from business leaders across all sectors in South Africa about how the new visa requirements could affect the ability of non- South African nationals to live and work here," says Greg Stockton, divisional manager for the Africa region at deVere Group.
"We provide specialist financial advice on offshore pensions and tax products for our high net worth and expat client base, many of whom will be severely inconvenienced by these new regulations.
"The South African government needs to send a clear message to skilled professionals who are considering moving to this country that it is not going to make the process so cumbersome that they take their much needed skills and much needed investment elsewhere," Stockton says.
Two regulations delayed
Although Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba met with the airlines recently and subsequently announced that the implementation of two of the new immigration regulations on travelling minors will again be delayed, this time until 1 June 2015, there are worries that the remaining regulations could still damage South Africa's pro-business image.
The International Air Transport Association is also concerned about the new regulations which could put at risk the R9.7bn contribution which, according to Grant Thornton's estimate, the tourism industry makes to South African GDP each year. Up to now this has been one of the country's few successful growth stories, supporting one in every 12 jobs.
Add to this anecdotal evidence of new film productions in South Africa being cancelled each week as a result of the new visa rules and you have an explosive cocktail. The City of Cape Town recently requested that Home Affairs review the new immigration regulations because of possible negative effects on the city's R5bn film industry.
The new regulations make a distinction between temporary visas and long-term residence permits and have changed the process for changing visa types.
Implications of requirements
The implications of these new requirements for expats who are already employed here are even more serious. Many of these are highly skilled professionals, employed in sectors where they are training and mentoring others, or in businesses where they have invested their own capital and employ locals.
According to Global Migration South Africa, the new visa procedures could put R1bn in investment and 1,600 local jobs at risk. These numbers do not include the domestic staff employed by expats or the retail and hospitality spend of these 'foreigners' who choose to live in this country because they love it, love its people and love the hope and opportunity they have seen here - up until now.
"The government needs to articulate that South Africa is open for business and restructure the immigration rules to encourage people with skills and money to invest in South Africa. Otherwise, they risk killing the golden goose these immigrants currently represent," Stockton concludes.