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South Africans with skills are leaving the country. Their reasons include better career opportunities as well as political and economic stability.

Statistics from the Department of Home Affairs showed that in 2017, eight South African professionals left for every skilled foreigner who entered the country.

The report estimated that over half a million South Africans had emigrated between 1989 and 2003, with the numbers growing by about 9% a year thereafter.

About 120000 of those who left had professional qualifications.

This represented about 7% of the total number of professionals employed in South Africa at the time.

The UK, the US, Australia and New Zealand were the most popular countries for South Africans to settle in.

Figures from the UK’s Home Office of Analysis and Insight showed that 567889 visas were granted in the first quarter of this year. 

Of this figure, 18797 were South African. The figure was up from last year’s first quarter numbers - 17654.

Dr Matt Hagreen, of the UK Home Office, said the Office for National Statistics published estimates of the number of people immigrating to the UK and the published figures were always broken down by yearly quarters.

Last year, the US issued a decade high number of immigrant visas to South Africans - 852. In 2009, it issued 723.

Australia lists South Africa as its seventh-largest source of emigrants.

According to a 2018 report by the Australian Department of Home Affairs, 4 235 South Africans relocated last year.

The number of South Africans moving to New Zealand is also up. In March this year, Stats New Zealand released a report which said 7900 South Africans had settled in the country since 2018. It was about 200 people more than the previous year.

The impact of emigration was being felt in the property sector.

According to the latest FNB estate agents survey, published in April, 14.2% of total sales were the result of emigration.

Siphamandla Mkhwanazi, an analyst, said emigration driven sales were expected to increase.

He said according to estate agents, sales had doubled over the past two years and were more prominent in the coastal and upmarket areas.

Michele Wilson, a KwaZulu-Natal director of Seef in Kloof, said she had concluded from her interactions that more people than before were leaving South Africa.

“They were quite astute, had degrees and were encouraged to emigrate to a new country like Australia, New Zealand or the United Kingdom to follow their career path,” she said.

Grant Gavin, a RE/MAX broker and owner in the Durban North and uMhlanga areas, said the market was cyclical and dependent on a variety of factors.

“The emigration trend has increased since last year. The last time there was a spike in emigration was between 2008 and 2009 when issues with Eskom were flaring and Jacob Zuma was going to be elected president.

“People want stability and certainty, and were willing to go to another country to find it,” he said.

He said emigrating was not an overnight decision.

“It’s not easy. Long-term planning must be done, especially if entire families are relocating. However, every time someone listed their house, there was still someone who bought it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Homecoming Revolution, a headhunting firm in Africa, said many South Africans who left later changed their minds.

Every year the firm puts together a report, and its latest finding (Homecoming Trends Report 2019) has some of the following quotes:

“Working abroad is amazing, but Africa is my home. So many opportunities and so much potential

“After the May 8 elections, I believe that SA has the opportunity to be on a new trajectory in so many ways. Me and my family are seriously considering coming back.”

“South Africans need to be more positive about their country, appreciate what they have and fight to keep it. I’m sick of being asked in disbelief why I left England. SA’s think everything is better abroad, they need a reality check!”

The report found 34% of those who participated in the study wanted to return, 22% remained undecided, and 44% showed no interest in returning.

It found most South Africans thought about returning after having spent between two to 10 years abroad.

It confirmed the top countries for South Africans to emigrate to were; the UK, the US, Australia and New Zealand. The primary reason behind leaving was to pursue career opportunities and utilise their qualifications and skills.

According to the report, the top three areas of expertise of South Africans living abroad were in financial services (21%), IT and Tech (20%) and health care (19%).

It also said the main reasons people wanted to return were reconnecting with friends and family, regaining a sense of belonging, the weather and lifestyle.

Sunday Tribune