Massive emigration wave expected to hit South Africa and other countries

Before the pandemic struck, it had become substantially easier to travel, study, work, do business, and settle abroad. Two years later, much of humanity is aching to get moving again, and not just in response to Covid, says Dr Christian Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners.

“Economic opportunity, political tensions, and climate change all play a role. We do not get to pick from among crises when they all strike at the same time and collectively have significant potential to induce a broad reordering of the world’s population.

“Particularly, people with talent and means are less and less restricted by geography and will increasingly relocate to countries with better business, work, and education opportunities, more robust health systems, better fiscal environments, and more sustainable infrastructure.”

Kaelin said that these professionals typically desire locations that are more stable socially and economically and that are less affected by armed conflicts and climate change.

After witnessing and experiencing the devastating effects of the pandemic on the countries most impacted by the coronavirus and its consequences, people now also look for the countries with the most stable and sensible governments, he said. Kaelin added that residence and citizenship diversification has become a must for global entrepreneurs and investors.

“This movement of people will be life-changing for many and will prove to be an exceptional opportunity both for individuals and for countries. If managed positively, it could also provide a solution to the growing refugee crisis.

“As a rising number of people are forced to leave their birth countries, some nations, in fact, need to increase their populations — particularly in Europe — to maintain an optimum workforce and adequate social services.”

Emigration from South Africa 

Local analysts have already pointed to a major emigration wave being seen in South Africa at the end of 2021.

In a December interview Emma Durkin, head of Human Capital at Altron Karabina, said that while an increase in resignations was first reported in July 2021, what was a trickle in cases has developed into a full-blown wave as more skilled people weigh up their options.

“If we don’t look after people now, the scarce skills bump that we are going through now is going to become a crisis, and that is something we want to avoid,” she said.

While South Africa is not unique in experiencing a brain drain, Durkin said that the Covid-19 pandemic and closure of borders had created 18 months of pent-up demand, with a significant amount of people emigrating in just a few months.

“As industries are opening again and people are becoming a little more confident, they are recruiting aggressively, particularly in the tech area.”

While there is a lot of negativity in South Africa, Durkin said that the key reasons are the same as they have been for more than a decade, including:

  • Disillusionment with the government;
  • Load shedding;
  • High unemployment;
  • Poverty.

However, Durkin noted that more recent developments have also accelerated the emigration wave. “A big wobble within our employee grouping was the unrest in Durban earlier this year, which touched on Gauteng. That really has instigated quite a big wave in our environment.”

Read: 104 countries you can travel to visa-free on a South African passport at the start of 2022