Skilled South Africans are leaving the country, how many, why and where they are going to?

Skilled South Africans are leaving the country to live abroad. Picture: Markus Spiske/Pexels

Skilled South Africans are leaving the country to live abroad. Picture: Markus Spiske/Pexels

Published Apr 22, 2024


Over the last month, a number of reports have come out and have provided a critical evaluation of how many South Africans are leaving the country.

The reports have also investigated why these people are leaving and where they are moving to.

The mega wealthy

Over the last 10-years South African has lost more than 11,000 dollar millionaires as skilled workers are choosing to move to developed nations and economies.

According to Henley and Partners 2024 Africa Wealth Report, SA has specifically lost 11,300 dollar millionaires and this is the fourth most of any African country.

South Africa still maintained its status as the wealth capital of the continent.

SA has 37,400 dollar millionaires and five billionaires.

The research said Johannesburg holds the top spot of the wealthiest city in Africa, with 12,300 millionaires and two billionaires.

Cape Town has 7,400 millionaires and one billionaire.

Why are rich South Africans leaving?

According to the BRICS Wealth Report for 2023 by Henley and Partners, high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) are choosing to leave the state for a number of reasons. High on the list of reasons are political and economic instability.

The research said that these individuals want “safe haven countries” where their wealth can be protected.

Rising crime and violence, access to education and good healthcare are also major priorities for HNWIs.

South African emigration over 20 years

Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) released its first-ever report on migration in South Africa in March.

The report noted that it would be looking at a 20-year period (2000-2020) and looked at South Africa citizens residing abroad based on UNDESA data.

“Data on emigration, due to the very character of this migration type, are more difficult to collect than immigration data,” the report said.

The report said that just over 900,000 South Africans were living abroad in 2020.

The report broke this down as follows:

– In 2000, there was a total of 501,600 South African citizens residing abroad, with 49.0% being male and 51.0% being female.

– In 2005, the number of SA citizens living overseas increased to 550,462, with 53.5% being male and 46.5% being female.

– In 2010, the total number of South African citizens living abroad increased to 743,807, with 49.4% being male and 50.6% being female.

– In 2015, the number of SA citizens residing abroad reached 786,554, with 48.2% being male and 51.8% being female.

– In 2020, the number of South African citizens living overseas reached 914,901. The sex distribution was 49.4% being male and 50.6% being female.

Graph shows the number of South Africans leaving the country to settle abroad over the years. Picture: UNDESA

Where are South Africans going?

According to the research, Europe was the top destination of choice for South Africans, followed by Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) and North America (USA and Canada).

In 2000, Europe had 38.6% of the total expatriate population. Oceania was the second-largest region with 21.1% and Northern America had 20.4% of South Africans living abroad.

In 2005, the report said Europe still maintained its top position with 38.8%.

“Northern America and Oceania maintain their positions, contributing 18.5% and 25.6%, respectively,” the report said.

In 2010, Europe's share grew to 41.4% for South African’s expatriate population. Oceania's proportion increased to 27.5% while Northern America decreased to 16.7%.

In 2015, Europe decreased to 37.7% but it was still the top spot of the SA expatriate population. The next top destination was again Oceania at 29.7% 18.5% in Northern America.

In 2020, Europe continued to be the top region of residence with a share of 39.3% of the expatriate population.

Oceania had a substantial presence of South Africans again with 29.9% and Northern America's share was at 18.1%

United Kingdom, Australia and USA

StatsSA said that the United Kingdom is a very prominent and a consistent favourite destination for South Africans.

The number of citizens living in the UK has increased steadily from 136,720 in 2000 to 247, 336 in 2020.

“Australia also attracted a significant number of South African emigrants, with their population growing from 80,650 in 2000 to 199,690 in 2020, making it one of the preferred destinations.

“The USA was another popular choice, with the number of South African emigrants increasing from 65,171 in 2000 to117,321 in 2020,” StatsSA said.

People with skills leaving South Africa

The UK Office of National Statistics said in 2021 that 54% of South Africans living within the country have higher education qualifications.

According to a census conducted in 2021 by Australian Bureau of Statistics, South Africans who have moved to the country are generally highly educated with 43% have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The census noted that 189,207 South Africans were living in Australia in 2021. A third, 36% were working as professionals and 15% as managers.