Immigration policy about striking a fair balance - Malusi Gigaba

Minister says his dept must balance SA's development, security and international obligations

Introductory Remarks by the Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba MP, on the occasion of the Colloquium on a new International Migration paradigm for South Africa in Pretoria on June 30th, 2015

30 June 2015

It is my special privilege to welcome you all to this, the “Colloquium on a new International Migration paradigm for South Africa.”

We thank you for setting aside many of the important you would rather be doing in order to join us as we try to shape up and refashion our international migration perspectives and forge a new paradigm.

Quite clearly, we have summoned you all here because we believe you are important stakeholders in that effort, because we believe your opinions count.

From the outset, we make the bold presumption that South Africa needs a new “International Migration paradigm” and the one we are currently overseeing and implementing has reached the end of its shelf-life.

Accordingly, the question that arises is: What type of international migration policy does an ambitious, developing, democratic country such as South Africa require?

Secondly, what must we seek to do with this policy?

In other means, what should be the objectives and benefits of this policy for the country?

The Department of Home Affairs is in the process of updating the country’s international migration policy, which was last articulated in the form of a white paper, in 1999.

As you no doubt are aware, the landscape has changed considerably since then.

International migration has emerged as a major phenomenon, posing both significant opportunities, as well as unique and complex challenges for governments and societies around the world.

Even for us as a country, it is a recurring debate in many radio talk-shows, newspaper articles, and even discussions among friends and family around dinner tables because of the impact it is having in our society.

It is particularly important that a developing country such as South Africa thoughtfully navigates the opportunities and challenges presented by international migration.

We are a 21-year old, vibrant, raucous democracy, in the process of developing a national identity and cohesive society.

We are a developing economy, attempting to transform itself from an extremely unequal, exclusive, deindustrialised economy based on the export of natural resources to an inclusive, dynamic and labour-absorbing industrial economy, as spelt out in our National Development Plan: Vision 2030.

We are, at the same time, committed to realizing the Africa Union’s Agenda 2063 and contributing to the upliftment of the SADC region and the continent as a whole, through regional economic integration and intra-African trade.

Therefore, the fundamental question we are trying to answer through the new Green Paper on International Migration must be:

What international migration policy is required to achieve our developmental objectives?,

How can we maximize our ability to reap the potential benefits of international migration?

How can we mitigate the risks presented by international migration?

We are at an exciting stage in the policy development process.

We have purposely convened a series of roundtables on various aspects of international migration policy to solicit views from outside of our department and many of you have participated in these dialogues, engagement we have thus far found very insightful and empowering for us.

Throughout this process, and continuing today, we have been very much in listening and learning mode.

After the Colloquium, we will digest the contributions you have made, through papers and the discussions over the next two days, and then begin to deliberate on policy positions, which we will subsequently take through the Cabinet process.

We will then come back with a draft Green Paper which we will test with yourselves and many other stakeholders.

There are only a few things I wish to say with certainty right now.

Firstly, immigrants make a huge contribution to our society and development, and can contribute even more under an improved policy framework.

As investors, business owners, traders and buyers of goods, holders of critical skills, professionals, scientists, doctors, nurses, teachers, artists, relatives and spouses, they are an integral part of South Africa.

Often public discourse in our country focuses on the negative impact of international migration in our society in the form of brain-drain, the pressure of immigrants on social services in poor areas, the impact of economic migrants on the job situation in the country and even the impact of cross-border crimes and those that commit them.

Often neglected in this narrative is the positive social and economic impact that both our expatriates as well as immigrants have in our society.

Their positive contribution in the economy, enhancing national security, the forging of social cohesion and concept of nationhood as well as in integrating South Africa into Africa and the worldwide community of nations remains largely ignored in political and social circles except as matters of academic curiosity.

The new policy will advocate a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach to managing international migration proceeding from the premise that international migration is not something which can, or should be, managed by Home Affairs alone.

It requires a

- government-wide approach,

- collaborations across all the three tiers government,

- collaborations between government as a whole and society, communities and the public, as well as

- collaborations between South Africa and her neighbours at both bilateral and multilateral levels.

The policy must be part of a new discourse on international migration which engages all South Africans.

It must directly engage the average man or woman on the street, and address their values, aspirations, needs and concerns.

It is ordinary South Africans all over the country who live alongside immigrants and must integrate them into their communities.

By way of context, I will now share a few further guiding principles, and pose a few more questions.

Home Affairs is mandated by government to manage international migration in a way which balances our development, security and international obligations.

This balancing role is absolutely critical.

While other stakeholders can focus on their individual interest, we must look at the whole picture and seek to strike a balance.

This balance is not always easy to strike, but striking it fairly is our mandate.

Those stakeholders in the private sector may only be interested in making it as easy as possible for tourists, investors, and skilled workers to enter South Africa.

This is understandable.

We are also charged with making sure that the rules and procedures which ease their entry do not, at the same time, also ease the entry of fraudsters, terrorists, organized crime syndicates and human traffickers.

Those in the security cluster, who deal with the human cost and corrosive influence of these criminal elements, and are tasked with combating them, want more preventative measures, even if they mean some inconvenience for legitimate visitors.

We then have to balance between the risk and impact of a potential breach and the potential benefits of the visitation from a tourist, investor or skilled worker; and we must bear into consideration the potential negative impact of security measures on legitimate travel and trade.

What is the right balance may be a matter of parochial interests to the different parties; and yet to us as the Department of Home Affairs, it is at the very centre of discharging our mandate as we manage immigration.

We often get severely criticized for the choice of balance we strike and, consequently, this balance cannot be arbitrary on our part, it must be guided by a clear, futuristic and balanced policy paradigm that seeks to harness the good and take advantage of the positives whilst it minimises the risks both through the policy guide and administrative processes and capacity.

One of our most important international obligations is to the region.

South Africa has committed itself to African and regional integration, to progressively weaken colonially imposed borders and make it easier for SADC and African citizens to move without restriction.

Because of our relative economic strength, our terms of trade with some of our neighbours are often balanced in our favour.

So while we may have concerns about the impact of mixed migration on our domestic labour market, we must balance this with regional solidarity and enlightened self-interest, as South Africa will benefit in the long-term from a more integrated, more prosperous region and continent.

As we have said it above, our international migration policy must be futuristic and dynamic enough to adapt to changing circumstances and take on board new realities, challenges, opportunities and risks.

Some of the key questions we must answer clearly emerge:

What principles should underpin a new South African international migration policy?;

Increasingly, countries around the world seek to attract and ease entry of highly sought-after types of travellers and migrants – tourists, investors, businesspeople and skilled workers – while limiting immigration by job seekers and low-skilled workers who do not respond to an identified labour gap. Is this an appropriate approach for South Africa?;

How can we discourage and dis-incentivize irregular immigration, in a way which is effective and humane?;

How can we build understanding of, and support for, international migration throughout society?; and

How can we improve available data and information on the number of immigrants in society, their characteristics and needs?

These are merely some of the issues and questions which arise, as we consider international migration for development.

Many more will emerge over the course of our engagement over the next two days.

I very much look forward to hearing and engaging with your views, research and experiences.

I thank you.

Statement issued by Department of Home Affairs, June 30 2015