By Andile Ndlovu

One in five South Africans is planning to emigrate - or seriously considering it.

A recent survey by global market research company Synovate revealed almost half that figure are young blacks. The urge to emigrate is prevalent in the 18 to 44 age group.

Rand Merchant Bank senior economist Ettienne le Roux said: "The obvious negative for any country experiencing high levels of emigration is the loss of skills and future income these skills would have generated.

If emigration is not matched by immigration of people with at least the same skills, the country will be worse off. In this regard, it is encouraging that the government is showing preliminary signs of making it easier for skilled foreigners to come and work in our country."

The US, Australia and New Zealand emerged as the most popular destinations.

Tracey Lawrence, migration manager of Australian Migration Specialists, said: "There is absolutely no doubt South Africans are looking elsewhere. We've seen a slowdown in business in the past three months due to the economic turmoil.

But the first eight months of this year have been tremendous - we saw an unprecedented growth in business. A lot of this has to do with fear for their children. They are concerned about education, crime and whether they would be able to secure good jobs here. Political instability also comes up regularly."

The Synovate survey conducted face-to-face interviews with 600 random respondents from all nine provinces to gauge the attitudes of South Africans on emigration and current living standards.

Research manager Antony Adelaar, said: "Our sample was controlled to be representative of the population across all provinces, gender, ethnic groups and age segments. The sample size allows for statistically valid and reliable interpretation of results."

But 47 percent of those surveyed said they had no intention of leaving the country, with the balance not having thought about it, believing they did not meet emigration requirements.

"There is always the concern the skills won't come back, but many seem to show interest in returning one day. Although about a quarter of the younger age segments show interest in leaving, the administrative requirements would probably deter many," said Adelaar.

In the first quarter of 2008, the Australian Bureau released immigration statistics: In 2006, 248 699 African-born people lived in Australia (5,6 percent of the overseas-born population). The largest group - 104 133 or 41,9 percent - were from South Africa.

The rate of emigration has increased rapidly. Only 20 percent of South African residents had arrived in Australia before 1976, but about 60 percent had arrived in the past 12 years. A vast number (88 percent) of the people said they wanted to emigrate for business and job opportunities; 55 percent were prompted by violence, crime and corruption; 19 percent mentioned the "volatile" economy and cost of living; 13 percent "government problems", and 14 percent family reasons.

Positives in the survey included the country's good climate, vast natural beauty, and cultural diversity, which persuaded people to stay. Only 20 percent of respondents said they would not return should they emigrate.