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Emigration: a challenge for South Africans during the COVID-19 pandemic

Jan 19, 2021

Many South Africans living abroad have been negatively affected by the travel ban and the new variant of the COVID-19 pandemic that is spreading faster. Due to the new variant, countries such as Germany prohibit travellers from South Africa of entering the country. This leaves South Africans who came to South Africa for the Christmas season stranded. They have jobs and responsibilities to return to in the countries where they live but cannot do so until further notice. Other families, such as that of Petrus Janse van Rensburg, have been separated over the past year due to the global pandemic and the restriction. He had already left for New Zealand in January 2020 to take up a position and expected his wife and daughter to follow him shortly thereafter. However, the confinement in both New Zealand and South Africa caused them to be separated for months – to such an extent that Janse van Rensburg began to fear that his daughter would forget him. The consequence of the separation was exacerbated because the family had already sold everything in South Africa and resigned their works in anticipation of the move.

The COVID-19 pandemic thwarted the plans of many South Africans who were already in the process of emigrating. With migration offices and borders unexpectedly closed, many had to postpone their plans. They must make sure that their documentation is still valid. An English language test is usually valid for three years, but a police indemnity only for 12 months. Numerous jobs have also been affected as countries such as Australia give preference to healthcare professions during the COVID-19 pandemic and may deprioritise jobs in other professions. Sam Hopwood, an Australian migration expert, says each geographical area prioritise visa invitations according to the skills needed. During the pandemic, South Africans must be prepared to work in areas where the local population may choose not to work, in other words in areas outside Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Working remotely is also an option, and willingness to be flexible can improve your chances of getting a visa that must be applied for by an employer.

For South Africans abroad, education for their children is a major obstacle. Distance education and good internet access are crucial. The best thing parents can do, especially abroad, is looking for a network they can join. Joining forces with South Africans in your area and becoming part of organisations such as Worldwide makes it easier to find solutions. It even opens the door to have your children taught in South Africa through the medium of Afrikaans, although you are abroad. Facebook and email groups and support networks are more important than ever. According to UNICEF experts, the following are important if you have to travel with your children during the pandemic:

  • Make sure your child has received the necessary routine vaccinations, e.g., for measles and flu.
  • Use off-peak transportation. If you have to fly, try booking a less popular time to avoid large groups of people.
  • Take your own food and drinks to reduce the risk of infection.

For South Africans who have to travel abroad, the exchange rate is more favourable than a few months ago. In July 2020, the US dollar was worth R16,70; however, the rand has strengthened to R15,30. For South Africans who have to incur costs overseas, this is a great advantage, although the rand is still weaker than before the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought financial burdens to most people. This could mean that many families have to postpone their planned emigration. Others who have recently emigrated may no longer have the job security they once had. No matter what everyone’s situation is, the pandemic teaches us that good savings principles cannot be circumvented. South Africans, in particular, who often are at a disadvantage when it comes to exchange rates, need a solid buffer before emigration.

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