Explainer Video: Top 3 Myths about Foreigners in South Africa

Watch and share this video, to help us counter the top 3 myths about migrants that fuel xenophobia in South Africa.

For more information on the contribution that foreigners make to South Africa, visit the Helen Suzman Foundation article Public opinion versus reality on immigrants in South Africa.

1. On foreigners’ contribution to economic growth and job-creation:

Using a macroeconomic model, the OECD-ILO report found that high-skilled foreign-born workers raise GDP by 2.8% (in comparison with a situation without foreign-born workers), and increase GDP per capita by 2.2% (see Figure 5.7). In terms of employment, high-skilled foreign-born workers raise the number of employed people by 678 000 (consisting of 462 000 additional South African-born workers and 216 000 foreign-born workers). The effects on GDP and employment are greater in the case of medium-skilled and low-skilled workers, due to the greater number of workers in these categories. For example, in 2011 high-skilled foreign-born workers numbered 285 000, compared to 895 000 medium- and low-skilled workers. The effect of medium-skilled and low-skilled immigrant workers on income per capita amounts to 2.8%. The model estimates the immigrant contribution to between 8.9% and 9.1% of national GDP.

The OECD-ILO labour market impact analysis suggests no significant impact of the presence of immigrant workers on South African-born employment at the national level. However, at the sub-national level, the presence of immigrant workers has both negative and positive effects on the South African-born population. It was concluded further that the presence of “new” immigrants, who have been in South Africa for less than ten years, increases both the employment rate and the incomes of local workers.

This is likely a result of the economic growth associated with immigration (together with the reality that immigrants are more likely to be self-employed and therefore employ South Africans), subsiding in the medium term once the economy has adjusted to newcomers.

Moreover, the evidence suggests that immigrants do not necessarily compete for the same jobs as South Africans. This is in line with South Africa’s critical skills-based immigration policies, but also the “backdoor” phenomenon, by which immigrants are allowed to enter to fill informal sector or low-skilled jobs, but only on a temporary basis and with little job protection.

2. On foreigners’ contribution to the prison population:

SAPS does not release data on the nationality of persons arrested or convicted of crime but, in response to a parliamentary question in June 2017, the Minister of Justice Correctional Services stated that 11 842 foreign nationals were in prison, of which 1 380 were there solely by virtue of being illegally present in South Africa. This means that only 6.4% of people in South African prisons, either convicted or remanded for other crimes at that time, were foreign nationals. This is below the 7.1% proportion of the population that they constitute.

3. On deportation statistics:

The Department of Home Affairs publishes deportation figures in its annual reports. The figures represented by the graph in the video begin at the peak of 280 837 deportations in 2009, and end at 15 033 deportations in 2018.


Tove van Lennep