We convene here in the midst of interesting political times around the world, and here in South Africa.
We have witnessed dramatic events, such as Brexit, the US Presidential Election, and #FeesMustFall in South Africa.
International migration – the long term movement of people outside of their home countries – was a major, contentious and emotive issue in the first two of these phenomena.
Thankfully, despite occasional flare-ups of xenophobia in our country, our university students are internationalist and Pan-African, and have retained solidarity with international counterparts, as they agitate for universal access to a world-class, decolonised higher education.
So the salience of international migration as a policy issue continues to be demonstrated.
It intersects with core issues of citizenship, national identity, economic development and security.
As you know, Home Affairs has the mandate of managing international migration in South Africa, balancing national development and security imperatives, as well as our international and constitutional obligations.
Citizens all over the world have elevated expectations of political leaders, and South Africans are no different.
Thus Home Affairs has had to reimagine how we manage international migration, in the form of a new White Paper for the country on this policy area.
We released a Green Paper in June this year, as a discussion document to stimulate national discourse.
The public comment period ended in September, and we are digesting the many hundreds of inputs received from South Africans, other Africans, civil society and international organisations.
We are now preparing a White Paper, for presentation to Cabinet early next year, after which it will become the policy of the country for the foreseeable future. When we talk about South Africa’s development, the National Development Plan is the overarching vision and framework which informs our work.
We are implementing its provisions, and every major policy decision we take must align to it and contribute to it. The NDP rightly identifies the importance of international migration, in trying to move from a highly concentrated and unequal economy based on the extraction and export of raw mineral resources, to an inclusive and capability-building, industrial and knowledge economy, based on value-added goods and services, well-integrated with Africa and doing significant trade with the rest of the world.
How must international migration policy contribute to this? Like all other countries, international migration policy must ensure that South Africans have priority for employment opportunities in South Africa.
That being said, given our low levels of skills, it must facilitate our economy’s ability to attract international skills to complement, but not replace, our domestic human resource development. This informs our policy to retain international students in South Africa, by offering permanent residence to international students in critical skill disciplines.
Further, it informs our efforts to accelerate processing of work visas and critical skills visas, with most applications being finalized in eight and four weeks respectively.
South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and tourism is an important growth industry, particularly as it is a labour absorbing industry with many high-quality jobs for South Africans in travel, hospitality and environmental conservation.
So we are continuing to focus on efficiently processing millions of travelers through our ports of entry every year.
We are piloting collection of biometrics at OR Tambo, and plead for the understanding of international travelers at the extra wait times as we try to increase the number of immigration officers within our resource constraints.
We are continuing to look at ways to facilitate entry of legitimate tourists and business travelers, both from visa-exempt and visa-required countries.
Our international migration policy needs to reflect and complement our foreign policy.
Our foreign policy is Africa-oriented, and prioritises regional integration and intra-African trade.
It also prioritises South-South cooperation, as well as greater trade ties with our BRICS partners.
Accordingly, we are expanding the issuing of long term multiple-entry visas to frequent travelers, businesspeople, academics and other trusted travelers from visa-requiring countries in Africa and BRICS.
Of course most Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries do not require visas to visit South Africa, as part of our acknowledgement of our close ties with our immediate and regional neighbors, as part of our efforts to liberalise movement on the continent.
We are committed to working with SADC and the AU on ways to make it easier for Africans to travel in Africa.
We remain committed to a refugee policy which is humane, welcoming and inclusive, and reflects our solidarities with countries working to overcome conflict, instability and underdevelopment, especially on the African continent.
We are working on policy measures to strengthen our asylum seeker management processes, to ensure genuine asylum seekers and refugees are able to access protection, services and speedy status determination.
In fact, next week we are launching the improved Marabastad Refugee Reception Office in Pretoria, which we have been dramatically improving to address issues of inefficiency which made life difficult for asylum seekers and refugees, and even contributed to corrupt activities of a small number of unscrupulous government officials.
We see the new international migration policy as an opportunity to drive a national discourse which locates immigrants to South Africa in the context of nation building and social cohesion. South Africa belongs to all who live in it, not just black and white, but native and foreign-born, whether your home language is English, Zulu, Xhosa, Lingala, French, Swahili, Portuguese or Somali.
So we are working to expand our conceptions of who is a South African, and who belongs here.
It is a challenge many countries are grappling with around the world, but certainly we believe that South Africa, the country of Ubuntu, and an internationalist freedom struggle, the country of Mandela, can certainly rise to the occasion.
I thank you.
Source: Government of South Africa.