758 A South African Airways aeroplane flies low as it is about to land at Boksburg airport on the East Rand. 181110. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Cape Town -

South Africa’s brain drain has begun to reverse with nearly 360 000 expatriates – mostly engineers and financial professionals – heading home since the onset of the global recession in 2008.

The figures are based on the January employment index by outsourcing specialists Adcorp, which examined the effects of immigration and emigration on the employment environment.

Adcorp labour economist Loane Sharp said the latest figures were derived from data for workers earning more than R400 000 a year.

However, despite the influx of professionals returning home, it’s still not enough.

Currently there is a shortage of highly-skilled workers, with 829 000 unfilled vacancies.

This represents 18 percent of the total pool of managers and professionals in South Africa and 12 percent of the total pool of graduates.

The unemployment rate for highly-skilled workers stands at 0.4 percent compared to an unemployment rate of 37 percent for the entire workforce.

Recruitment agencies confirm the situation.

Afrizan’s Christelle Fitzell said there had been a notable influx of South Africans returning to the country.

“We have noticed a diminished number of graduates leaving South Africa. There is a correlation between the global recession and returning professionals as South Africans abroad realise that the grass is not always greener on the other side,” Fitzell said.

While job losses started in the US, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore with the credit crunch in 2008, Europe was hit hard with job losses in 2010.

Most people have returned from Europe, particularly the UK, as well as Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Hong Kong and Japan.

“Job losses resulted often with companies no longer able to offer lucrative expat benefits like housing and schooling for children in international schools. Coming home just proved the cheaper alternative. Although there has been a noted turnaround in the markets, companies are less enthusiastic to hire foreign nationals due to the expense.”

Fitzell said tightened immigration legislation coinciding with the recession also had an impact on South Africans returning home, particularly in lower level skill sectors.

Fitzell said stringent BEE policies made it difficult for returning banking and mining professionals to find work except in cases where skills were extremely rare.

“In these instances, professionals with rare skills are often head-hunted but whether they return for the lucrative packages they are offered or because of changing perceptions about South Africa, is a difficult distinction to make.”

There was still a great need for expats from other professions. “We are in desperate need of medical professionals, actuaries, IT and telecommunications professionals as well as scientists. However, we have not seen an influx of returning professionals in these areas.”

Managing director of MPC recruitment agency, Hough Joubert also said there was “definitely” a significant number of South Africans returning home compared with previous years.

“The people returning are mostly from the financial field particularly investment bankers and accountants.”

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Cape Times