For a while now I've written about the window of opportunity closing for people wishing to leave SA. I don't encourage people to leave neither do I discourage people that want to leave.
It seems now the doors have truly been slammed shut, by new foreign government restrictions, job circumstances overseas and the depreciation of the Rand. Unless you are prepared to start from scratch financially, you are essentially trapped in the country.
Canada: Doors slam shut
New Zealand emigration: Doors closing
UK closing door to South Africans
World economic crisis turns tables on SA brain drain.
The tide of South Africans moving overseas has turned thanks to the recession in the UK, US and other Western countries.
Hundreds have cancelled or postponed plans to move overseas, while many already there are flooding back home following mass lay-offs, wage cuts and a new belief that home is the best place to ride out the storm.
Charles Luyckx, CEO of Elliot International and a board member of the Professional Movers Association, said this week that emigration numbers had dropped by 10% in the past six months, while “people imports” had increased by 50% over 2007.
“In the past month or two we have noticed that a lot of people are reconsidering leaving,” Luyckx said. “In the past five or six years, the ratio of people leaving to those coming back has been around three to one. Now it’s about even — and we expect even fewer moves abroad next year.”
Reg Bamford, the chief executive of migrant services company 1st Contact, said: “The City of London has been decimated by this crisis; people are being laid off left and right. Just this past month, two or three recruitment agencies sent e-mails to their (South African) contract workers to say their hourly wage rate was being cut by up to 15%, take it or leave it.”
He said the jobs crunch — plus the recent flood of new EU immigrants and the termination of working holiday visas for South Africans this month — meant “the party is over for South Africans wanting to find work in the UK, unless they have needed skills”.
“A lot of skilled South Africans are now essentially trapped in their homeland, which I’m sure will be a good thing for the economy. And we expect to see a lot of people going back next year,” he said.
Bamford said there was a frenzy of money transfers to South Africa in October, a month after the credit crunch struck, with the number remitting through his company jumping to 5000 compared to the average 2000. The average amount was also up: R15000 versus R9100.
In September, Shareen Geers, 36, from Johannesburg, was laid off as a senior manager for British travel giant XL Leisure Group along with 1600 other employees. After two months of job hunting, Geers — a single mother of three with a master’s degree in law — was so desperate for grocery money that she opened her home to ITV’s reality TV cameras in the hope that their show on the credit crunch might get her a sympathetic job offer.
A local radio station did give her a low-paying job selling advertising, but Geers said: “If it weren’t for the fact that my kids have a dad who lives here, I would be back in South Africa right now; no question. Aside from a few call- centre positions, there are just no jobs in my area.”
Jonathan Taylor, 45, a Johannesburg toy retailer, was due to move to San Diego, US, this week with his wife and four children. “We’ve had to scrap the move. The work situation is much less certain in the US right now, and its diabolical in the UK, so we’ve decided to give South Africa another go.
“We decided to leave a year ago during all the power cuts, with (Jacob) Zuma coming in (to power) and so on, but we feel the outlook has improved since then. There is also a real commitment to at least try to improve the security situation ahead of (the Soccer World Cup in) 2010.”
Alan Hirsch, chief economist in the Presidency, warned that a “scaling back” in private sector investment meant that some returning South Africans might struggle for jobs. However, because the country has “quite an advanced public sector investment programme”, as well as plans to strengthen the health and education sectors, “there will be opportunities for many of them”.
“(Compared to) Europe and North America, where the recession is hitting quite badly, we’re better off (for skilled job seekers). As long as this is not a temporary thing, and we’re able to attract skilled people (back) on a long-term basis, this is undoubtedly a good thing.”
Homecoming Revolution director Martine Schaffer said her organisation would hold job expos overseas next year to take advantage of the trend.
“We’ve heard from a large number of people who have suddenly put their emigration plans on ice, and the high cost of living in the UK means that people who’ve been laid off have not much time to job hunt before they have to leave: we just have to convince them that home is the best place to leave to,” she said.
Bamford said the jobs market in the UK had become so hostile to Commonwealth workers that working-holiday visa applications from Australians had been halved since October.
Luyckx said South Africans moving abroad were “no longer moving lock and stock”, but renting out their homes and storing their furniture. He said corporate moves to Australia, particularly for mining contractors, had all but frozen in the past two months.