Thomas Zilk, Austrian Business Chamber,
German Business Chamber,
Swiss Business Chamber,
EU Ambassador in South Africa.
Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to lunch.
I went to Vienna some ten years or more ago when I was Chair of the National Council of Provinces. It was a memorable visit, memorable for lots of things, places we went to and remarkable Austrians we met. Such experiences build global friendships and lay the basis for firm partnerships.
South Africa is keenly drawing on international partnerships to develop new policies and practices.
Under apartheid there was a state that served four or five million people. Since 1994 we have built a state to serve 40 to 50 million people. We built a capable state from a small nucleus that we inherited from our apartheid past and we have had to face huge challenges. Many of you present here today are playing a role in building a new South Africa.
Home Affairs was one of our major challenges. A lot was done to achieve a major change in the department. Passports have been changed to enhance security and issue them in good time. We are also introducing new ICT in ID security, a new smart ID card and a transforming technology environment.
In 2007 Home Affairs decided to enter the modern world. For many years the department was labelled horror affairs. We developed a holistic programme that resulted in a changed ethos in Home Affairs.
The turnaround strategy was planned to take place over five years, but within the first two years transformation was already apparent. A 2009 customer satisfaction survey showed that 93% of its ‘customers’ were impressed with the new waiting times for documents. The department had in place improved customer services, a solid foundation in improving the financial and accounting processes, as well as significant savings in key areas.
The evidence of how well Home Affairs was doing lay in the awards it won - best public procurement project and customer contact centre in 2007, first prize in the Technology in Government in Africa, Public Service Award for the ID transformation project in 2009.
Home Affairs has also improved the way it implements immigration policy and seeks to use this part of its work to increase the attraction of South Africa as an investment, leisure and education destination.
We especially value the people, trade, and investment from the EU.
The EU is South Africa’s largest trading partner (R325 billion last year). We export minerals and metals, food and beverages, chemicals, manufactured products, wood products and textiles. The EU is central to our industrial policy, job creation and foreign investment.
It is important for South Africa to effectively utilise immigration policy to enhance the achievement of its national goals. I would like to see a much closer relationship between our immigration laws and our common interests as a country.
Many companies utilise our waiver policies on work permits. I have found that we grant most waiver applications. That is good, but there are concerns.
In my experience, you most often apply for a General Work Permit in terms of section 19(2) and then ask me to waive one or another requirement when you need to employ a specific person for their particular skill and/or experience or knowledge of your company or industry and where you believe that local recruitment efforts will not produce another suitable candidate. These waiver requests should be for the senior managers of global firms, specialists of some sort, or similar. Quite often, they do not qualify for any of the other work permit categories, or it would be too onerous for them to have to fulfil them. I have found some of the waiver applications troubling. Many lead to a situation that suggests South Africans will never meet the requirements to do these ‘specialist’ jobs. I dispute this. Due to the fact that many of these applications are from large employers I have tended to approve waivers, but I do want some discussion of a skills plan to build skills in South Africa.
Another large group of applicants that require waivers are the holders of Intra-Company Transfer Permits (ICT) who have been seconded to South Africa from another branch or head office of your organisation. The ICT currently has a maximum validity of 2 years and cannot be renewed under the current Immigration Act (2002). Under the new act (2011) we are extending the period of validity to four years.
I believe that two years is too short a period for professionals and for newly established branches of major corporations. I hope that the chamber will welcome our soon to be published immigration regulations, which I think will be a great improvement on past practices.
We are extending the duration of these permits but research is pointing elsewhere.
A Price Waterhouse Coopers report, 'Talent Mobility: 2020 and beyond', just published, based on data from over 900 global companies, reveals that companies will need to offer new forms of global mobility to respond to skills shortages, changing business needs and employee preferences.
The main thrust of the report is that the future of work lies in short rather than long stints of work abroad in global companies. IT has changed the way we work, the way we can work.
According to the report, only 1% of employees in these global companies are on traditional assignments that involve three years in a different country and then returning home.
The research reveals that the average length of a posting has now dropped to 18 months. Even more interesting is the growth in the number of women workers. Women are projected to make up over a quarter of all assignees by 2020.
What appears to be happening is a trend for global companies to employ mobile workers, including long-distance commuters (who spend a week or two at a time in another country).
Our policies and regulations will have to change in response to these new models of work. We are also paying far closer attention to migration in our region and on the continent.
The ministry is exploring the creation of short term work permits for SADC nationals on a quota basis to allow for seasonal or longer term SADC contract workers and to ease the current burden on our asylum system.
Furthermore, increased attention will be paid to attracting skilled researchers to South Africa and to making provisions for foreign students who graduate in South Africa to easily acquire work permits.
One of the changes I hope to see in the next few months is efficient and professional processing of applications. Despite our turnaround strategy success we still tend to offer poor service and a very slow response time. I would like to see that change.
I hope that the new government post the 2014 election will be able to speedily publish an Immigration policy White Paper that will set out some of our new thinking and lay the basis for a modern globally competitive immigration policy.