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Do not board the flight without a parachute …

Jun 29, 2021

By Alana Bailey

As different countries in the world experience the waves of COVID-19 at varying speeds, borders are sometimes more, and at other times less open than in 2020. It seems that internationally, immigration figures are rising again. Sometimes the immigrants are people who would have relocated during 2020, but were prevented by the COVID-19 restrictions. At other times they are people who have been convinced by current circumstances to seek their salvation elsewhere. The purpose of this article is neither to judge any individual’s choice, nor to sound alarmistic, but simply to identify a few practical issues that need to be considered in order to make an informed decision.

1. Unemployment figures are rising worldwide

According to the latest statistics we were able to find, unemployment figures are rising worldwide. The increases may not seem dramatic, and the percentages for most countries are very low, compared to South Africa, but even a small increase can affect hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. See, for example, the unemployment rates of some of the most popular immigration destinations for South Africans in 2019, compared to the latest available figures of this year:

2019 2021
Australia 5.3% 10.3% (May)
New Zealand 3.9% 4.7% (March)
European Union 7.4% 8% (April)
UK 3.85% 4.7% (April)
USA 3.68% 5.8% (April)
Canada 5.7% 8.2% (March)


2. Last in, first out

In many countries and companies, the principle of “last in, first out” applies, in other words if you are the most recent appointment, you will be the first to go when retrenchments happen.

3. Charity begins at home

With unemployment rising, any South African who recently immigrated, will compete with the local community’s unemployed. Especially if you do not have a local employment record yet, a foreign employer will rarely choose you, unless the job is so specialized or so unpleasant that the country does not have unemployed people who can or want to compete with you.

At the Statue of Liberty in America the following lines from the poem The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus appear: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

In real life, immigrants are rarely viewed in the same romantic light. They are often perceived to be competitors for scarce resources, or even as opportunists. Therefore, do not expect that special consideration will be given to the needs of a South African or South African family abroad.

4. Social assistance may not be accessible

Although many countries provide excellent care for their citizens and other residents, such as medical care or unemployment benefits, it is not automatically available to everyone. Sometimes it is linked to your status in the country (your type of residence permit) or even to the duration of your residence there.

5. Other South Africans are not a parachute

South Africans abroad sometimes take care of each other in a wonderful way, but this is voluntary assistance that can neither be guaranteed, nor will continue indefinitely. This even applies to your friends and family abroad.

6. Accidents are accidents

The old saying goes that there are no guarantees in life other than taxes and death. Accidents cannot always be predicted ‒ someone with the best job offer may suddenly fall and break his back, or get a terminal disease such as cancer, suddenly be sued for a divorce, or discover that the agent responsible for the immigration process is a fraudster.

7. Borders may close once more at any time

Because COVID-19 regulations are constantly being amended by all countries, borders may close again, which means that a person in another country, or on his return to South Africa, may be detained in quarantine facilities for a fixed period of time ‒ maybe even at his own expense. If no provision has been made for such an event, it could be disastrous for anybody’s budget.

What to do

The answer is to explore your options in terms of contingency plans (your “parachutes”).

In the first place, do not burn bridges in South Africa when you leave. Maintain a good relationship with friends, family, colleagues and employers.

Also, do not leave behind debts that might result in blacklisting or even prosecution if you were to return. Leave with a clean slate.

Do not terminate policies or sell property until you are absolutely certain that you will not return.

Find out which kinds of insurance are available to you in the destination country, for example in case of illness, prolonged or permanent disability. If such provision is linked to your job offer, find out what would happen if you were to be retrenched.

No matter how happy your marriage may be, make sure what protection one spouse will enjoy if the other were to disappear, for whatever reason.

If you immigrate with the assistance of an agent, ensure that there is sufficient independent evidence of the person or company’s reliability.

Also examine the destination country’s labour laws. Talk to other South Africans living there beforehand to hear about their experiences ‒ not the information supplied by friends and family, but by people who are not involved with you and will give you an honest, unbiased opinion. Just because a country is in the so-called First World, does not necessarily mean that the legislation there will offer more protection to an employee than in South Africa.

Migration is one of the most far-reaching and costly decisions in an individual or family’s lives. The abovementioned recommendations may sound like a lot of effort, but may just mean the difference between prosperity and disaster.

Also read: Refugee status no easy way out

About the author

Alana Bailey

Alana Bailey is Head of Cultural Affairs at AfriForum


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