As South African Recession Stings, Emigration Resurfaces

It's been three months since Jacob Zuma took power as South Africa's President, and things are hardly going well.  As the global economy continues to sputter, Mr. Zuma is finding himself in a difficult position…and losing support from his key constituencies.

This morning's Wall Street Journal reports that "tens of thousands" of municipal workers are striking in Johannesburg, South Africa's economic epicenter.  As someone who has a great affection for South Africa and can attest to the remarkable success of the nation, particularly when compared to its regional neighbors, this concerns me.

The strikes are happening in a hodge-podge fashion so far, but one particularly troubling strike involved a weeklong work stoppage earlier in July by the construction crews working around the clock to on building projects for next year's FIFA World Cup, which is to be hosted in South Africa.  The event is considered to be South Africa's most promising opportunity to showcase its remarkable tourism offerings and culture, and to trigger a fresh round of international investment.  The strikes represent real threats to these objectives.

But perhaps the biggest threat to South Africa and Mr. Zuma's ability to govern is more in the area of human resources:  after a relative lull in emigration by South African professionals, international and South African immigration firms are seeing a renewed interested and more inquiries than they've seen in awhile.  And while my sole "presence" in Johannesburg consists of Jaime working out of his home office, what we are hearing suggests that as economic pressures continue to mount on South Africa, the threat of a fresh "brain drain", such as that seen in the 90's (when South African nurses and pharmacists made a hasty exodus to the U.S.) might be looming.

Unlike the Philippines, which produces far more healthcare workers than it needs domestically and has long relied on an expat workforce as a primary contributor to its national economy, South Africa does  not graduate sufficient workers for its domestic needs.  That means that the departure of such health care professionals cannot help but have an adverse impact on South Africa's health care needs.

We who practice immigration law, of course, are not in a moral position to talk someone out of emigrating from their economically-troubled nation.  Nevertheless, there is something to be said for those who instead choose to stay home and build their communities, notwithstanding the temptation for a big overseas salary.