Mr. Peter Sutherland, the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative for International Migration, has described international migration, “as the moral, political and economic issue of our time.”

Migration is of course a moral issue, concerning as it does, how we treat our guests in the form of visitors as well as regular and irregular immigrants, as well as vulnerable asylum seekers and forced migrants.

As a people who hold Ubuntu as a core tenet and value of our culture, we understand as deeply as anyone that our own humanity is bound up in how we treat and value others.

Politically, a country’s ability to determine who may enter and exit its territory, and on what terms, is a core aspect of national sovereignty which all of the 200 or so countries in the international state system retain.

Individuals visiting, transiting and residing in the territory of a country are entitled to the protection of as well as humane treatment by the host country.

By virtue of their presence in a territory, they may also make various claims on the host state, and thus destination countries are entitled to know who a prospective visitor is, and what their needs, circumstances and intentions are before they enter a country’s territory.

People can also become citizens of other countries through naturalization.

So when governments manage migration, they do so in the awareness that they are not merely considering entry of a temporary resident, but also a potential future citizen.

The movement of people is a core issue of regional integration, in Africa and other regions globally.

In recent months, we have seen the European Union – one of the models of regional integration efforts – come under significant strain over immigration issues with the so-called ‘refugees crisis’ and most recently with the ‘Brexit’ episode.

Meanwhile, the emigration out of the African continent of her best and most able and talented skills has continued unabated, and scores of these have been devoured by the vicious waters and beasts of the Mediterranean sea, with no help forthcoming nor long-term, sustainable and durable responses to it, as they sought to flee their political and socio-economic circumstances in pursuit of better stability, economic opportunities and a better life in Europe.

Throughout the Mediterranean crisis, Europe has turned a blind eye to the plight of these fellow humans who set their sights on Europe in the hope they would find there the peace, stability and development stolen from their countries by European countries through various means.

International migration is a critical issue economically because fundamentally, it is people who work, trade, spend and invest.

In a globalized world of dynamic, interconnected economies, the ability to manage the flow of people is critical to economic competitiveness.

Increasingly, the ability of a country to attract and facilitate the easy entry of tourists, business people, conference attendees, skilled workers and investors is a key component of economic competitiveness.

However, international migration is not just about the affluent strata of the economy.

It is a development issue.

African migrants sent approximately $35bn[1]home in 2015, an amount almost equalling the total amount of development aid Sub-Saharan Africa received from OECD countries the previous year ($36bn in 2014[2]), and only 25% less than Africa received from all countries ($47bn in 2014[3]).

And these are only the officially reported remittances; the actual numbers may be significantly higher when taking into account informal and unrecorded remittances.

In other words, Africans living and working outside of their home countries send financial resources home which match or even exceed development aid.

As you can see from this brief exposition, international migration is an enormously important issue with far-reaching implications for countries.

It is an issue which has increased in prominence in recent years, not only internationally, but in South Africa as well.

According to the World Bank, there are 250 million international migrants in the world, 3% of the world’s population, more than ever before.



The Department of Home Affairs is mandated to manage immigration to ensure security, promote development and fulfil our international obligations.

As part of our mandate, we are responsible for policy development on international migration, working in close consultation and partnership with sister government departments, the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs in Parliament and the Select Committee on Home Affairs in the National Council of Provinces.

South Africa last articulated policy on international migration 17 years ago with the 1999 White Paper, with resulting legislation including, notably, the Immigration Act of 2002 and subsequent amendments.

During this time, there have been legislative and regulatory changes, but no comprehensive review of policy.

In the intervening period, the landscape has changed significantly.

Key developments include:

  • South Africa has become a major destination and entry point to the continent and the world. That is, most of the SADC nationals are transiting through South Africa to the continent and the world. Further, world leaders, including politicians and business persons, travel through South Africa to the region, and low-skilled, working-class migrants both travel to South Africa and transit through the country to other destinations.
  • South Africa has become a preferred destination for investors. This has led to major conglomerates in the manufacturing and service industries establishing their regional offices and/or assembly plants in South Africa.
  • South African companies are increasingly expanding their businesses into other countries in Africa. Similarly, foreign companies seeking to invest in Africa are also increasingly using South Africa as a base to explore business opportunities in other African countries.
  • Migrants from the African continent, as far as the Horn of Africa, are transiting through South Africa to their destination countries in Europe and North America. This has been exacerbated by the tightening of borders and political instability in North Africa (The Arab Spring).
  • South Africa continues to receive a high number of asylum-seekers from almost all the regions of the world, including from countries that are generally considered to be politically stable.
  • South Africa attracts tourists from all the regions of the world because of its natural beauty, vibrant culture, and various tourist attractions; and it has become a major venue for conferences and international events.
  • African countries continue to liberalise their immigration regimes in line with the continental regional integration strategies and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 vision. For instance, EAC and ECOWAS member states have implemented visa free travel for citizens of the respective regions.
  • South Africans have taken advantage of globalization and have migrated to various developing and developed countries. The South African diaspora abroad can contribute to the achievement of national goals more so than is presently the case.

Quite clearly, South Africa has become a become a major source, transit and destination country for mixed-migration flows which need to be managed more robustly if the process is to have clear and tangible benefits for the country in terms of economic development, social cohesion as well as security.

Among others, what is evidently lacking in the current international migration framework is that,

  1. it lacks a management approach that does not treat migration as a nuisance or a laissez faire process, but rather as an inevitable process that can richly benefit our country and whose risks, if better managed, can be minimised,
  2. it lacks a framework to deal with economic migrants,
  3. asylum-seeker management processes are easy to abuse by economic migrants who resort to this mechanism in the absence of a policy that addresses that particular phenomenon, and
  4. it lacks a bold and robust approach to the recruitment and retention of critical skills in a world where they are so intensively pursued.



The new Green Paper must provide South Africa with the vision and policy tools to better manage international migration now and in the future, given these and other developments.

National thinking and attitudes to international migration are currently influenced by an unproductive debate between those who call for stricter immigration controls and those who call for controls to be wholesale relaxed.

The discourse is in general characterised by strong emotions, stereotypes, unreliable anecdotes, and contested statistics.

Discussions are usually limited by rigid, ‘either/or’ and ‘us and them’ thinking that sets up false dichotomies, such as:

  • Either we advance the rights of immigrants, or we advance the rights of citizens;
  • Immigration policies and regulations can either contribute to increased economic growth, or national security, but not both;
  • South Africa is either open to all those who seek to visit or reside here, or it is closed and hostile to outsiders.

It is my sincere hope that this Green Paper, and the accompanying national dialogue on international migration which it facilitates, can help us move past these simplistic, inaccurate and unhelpful ways of thinking.

The Green Paper, as we must do as the Department of Home Affairs, balances the primary imperatives of economic development, national security, international and constitutional obligations.

All of these are interlinked and mutually reinforcing.

Our economic competitiveness, and status as a leading destination in Africa for trade, tourism and investment, is enhanced by the security and stability that domestic and international actors rely on.

People feel safe here, and so they feel comfortable trading, spending, working and investing here.

Similarly, contributing to the economic development of our region and continent as a whole, in line with our long standing, Africa-oriented foreign policy, is in our enlightened self-interest.

Regional growth and cooperation, will contribute to stronger neighbours, who will be more effective partners in addressing transnational risks such as organized crime, terrorism and human trafficking, which threaten our national security.

The vision that we are proposing, is one which holds that South Africa should embrace international migration for development.

The Green Paper contends that it is neither desirable nor possible to stop international migration.

International migration is a natural, largely positive phenomenon – which if well managed – can, does and will make a crucial contribution to growing our economy and transforming Africa as envisioned in Agenda 2063.

International migration is part of what makes us human: we are by nature mobile and move in search of safety or opportunities.

All nations today are a product of historical migration flows that were partly influenced by earlier decisions taken by leaders of states.

In general, nations flourished where people with different origins, skills, resources and cultures were able to live, work and trade peacefully.

The paper sets forth some core principles which should inform our nation’s management of international migration.


Firstly, South Africa has a sovereign right to manage international migration in its national interests.

The national interests of South Africa should be defined in accordance with constitutional principles, socioeconomic development objectives and national security.

We must manage international migration in a way which promotes human rights, advances the National Development Plan, takes into consideration our circumstances and resource constraints, and ensures all persons residing in South Africa – citizens and foreign nationals alike – are and feel safe.


Secondly, South Africa’s international migration policy must be oriented towards Africa.

International migration policy must speak to a nation’s foreign policy.

Our foreign policy throughout the democratic period, has recognised South Africa as an integral part of the African continent, and our national interest as being inextricably linked to Africa’s stability, unity and prosperity.

South Africa is committed to regional economic integration through its participation in the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union.

We are an enthusiastic supporter of Agenda 2063 – adopted by African heads of state including President Jacob Zuma in 2015 – as formulated by the AU Commission under the leadership of Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, herself a former Minister of Home Affairs.

Our future lies, together with others, in being part of the African continent that has a knowledge-driven industrial base, thriving trade and a free flow of people, goods, information and capital.

In this regard it is important to note three significant developments that have implications for future international migration Africa.

Along with Agenda 2063’s call for a continent-wide visa free regime by 2018, negotiations for the establishment of the Tri-Partite Free Trade Area (TFTA) and Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) have highlighted the importance of freeing movement on the continent.

Our policy must equip us to work with regional partners, to progressively liberalize movement, in line with the aspirations of the people of our continent, for Africans to be able to move freely in Africa.


Thirdly, South Africa’s international migration policy must contribute to nation-building and social cohesion.

As mentioned earlier, the migration policy shapes the future composition of the South African population.

We must expand our narrow conceptions of who is a South African, previously confined to black, white, Indian or coloured people as defined by the Apartheid state, to include new South Africans originating from all over Africa and the world.

We must expand our discourse on nation building and social cohesion to recognize the enormous social and economic contributions of immigrants in our country, and welcome and integrate them into our communities.

A diverse nation can build its knowledge base by attracting new knowledge, experiences, cultures and synergies.

This gives it a critical advantage in world economy that is knowledge-driven and highly connected and dynamic.


Fourth, South Africa’s international migration policy must enable South Africans living abroad to contribute to national development priorities.

Like many other developingcountries, SA loses a significant proportion of its skilled workforce every year.

This has both negative and positive consequences that must be managed.

South Africans who have migrated to other countries can be a source of development in terms of skills, capital and connections.

Countries that are confronted with a similar challenge have established various institutional mechanisms for engaging with their respective diasporas.

This is a critical point!

If you listen to South Africans discuss immigration, it seems many of us think it is a one way phenomenon, of foreigners coming to South Africa.

Well hundreds of thousands of South Africans travel, live and work abroad for various lengths of time.

Not only must we think of ways to leverage our diaspora, but we must ensure we treat guests in our country the way we would like to be treated, not if but when, we ourselves travel abroad.


Finally, the efficient and secure management of international migration is the responsibility of individual countries, all countries collectively as well as regional structures.

International migration is a phenomenon with profound implications for all areas of government and society.

Its effective management likewise requires a ‘whole government-whole society’ approach.

On the domestic level, the policy attempts to set out the responsibilities of the state, civil society partners, individual citizens and foreign nationals living in SA with regard to migration.



Without attempting to detail everything that is in the paper, key policy choices include:

  • Management of admissions and departures. Here the policy outlines how a risk-based approach can be used to best facilitate easy entry into South Africa for bona fide travellers benefitting our economy, while keeping out the small minority of undesirable travellers
  • Management of residency and naturalisation. This section provides policy options to use these immigration categories strategically to prioritise those foreign nationals most likely to make significant contributions to our society and economy. It seeks to replace mechanical, compliance-based processes with smarter, more tailored processes and conditions for qualification
  • Management of international migrants with skills and capital. Globally, skilled workers and investors are highly sought after for their ability to positively impact growth and competitiveness. The policy explores ways to better attract and retain these immigrants to advance our development objectives.
  • Management of ties with the South African diaspora. For the first time, the policy attempts to guide us on how best to track, connect with and leverage our diaspora around the world.
  • Management of international migration within the African context. The policy explores how best to manage significant immigration from SADC countries. It also speaks to continental developments with respect to freeing movement of people as a core element of regional integration.
  • Admission of asylum seekers. The policy presents considered options to protect refugees, who are inherently vulnerable, and to efficiently manage genuine requests for asylum in line with our international obligations and continued commitment to protecting the human rights of refugees. It seeks to minime abuse of the asylum seeker system by economic migrants.
  • Management of the integration process for international migrants. The policy provides insights and options on how to integrate immigrants into our society, of critical importance to nation building and social cohesion.

Complementing these policy options, a chapter on ‘Capacity for Managing International Migration’ explores the capacity necessary to manage immigration strategically and securely.

Crucially, it argues that the cost of a lack of investment in managing international migration is far higher than the cost of building the necessary capacity.



This Green Paper represents the culmination of years of institutional experience and policy development work with respect to immigration specifically, and international migration more broadly.

It is not perfect, but we do believe it sets out many, if not all of the important questions South Africa must consider to effectively manage international migration in a globalised world, and in an increasingly integrated, developing and dynamic African continent.

International migration is an emotive issue, with far-reaching implication for society.

We expect robust debate on our proposals, and are convinced that the input of civil society formations, stakeholders and ordinary citizens will strengthen our proposals and point the way to the most appropriate and feasible solutions.

In the coming months, we will use all communication platforms and avenues available to us, to engage South Africans across the country on these issues.

Ultimately, for our nation to effectively manage international migration, we need the understanding and support of the vast majority of South Africans, from all walks of life.

We must have a thoughtful and inclusive national discussion, which respects the views, perspectives and concerns of all stakeholders.

Working together, we can and will manage international migration for the development of our country, region and continent.

I thank you.

Kindly note that the Green Paper is available here >>> Download the Green Paper <<<



[1]World Bank. Link

[2]The Guardian. Link

[3]World Bank. Link