I am an economic migrant from Zimbabwe and I have the qualifications to compete with the best South Africa has to offer. If only I could legally get my hands on a work permit.
Almost a decade ago I came to South Africa to study and, truth be told, to escape the worsening economic situation in Zimbabwe. My home country had long been reeling from its chaotic land programme; the economic situation was already going downhill consistently and rapidly. As a young person the future at home looked bleak and South Africa offered the promise of a better life.
Three degrees later – the highest being a Master’s qualification – I am back to square one. I have studied for six consecutive years in South Africa, and in the process I have learnt a lot about the culture, the people, and the politics.
Since I last completed my Master’s degree in 2015, I have received numerous job offers but have been unable to accept them. This is not because I do not want them or that the prospective employers don’t want me, but because I do not possess a work permit.
I have considered “buying” permits, but the consequences could be very damaging for me. Instead I am in limbo every day of the week.
I envy my friends when they talk about work. I wonder: What hope is there for me? I once wrote a passionate plea to the then Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, for him to consider my plight. I was sent from pillar to post.
As someone who looks to contribute meaningfully to the economy of the country that has become my second home, it is discouraging that a simple work permit is holding me back. I appreciate that this simple desire does not entitle me to a work permit. The South African government has a duty to protect its own citizens who have the right to jobs in their own country. However, I am an economic migrant and I have the qualifications to compete with the best South Africa has to offer.
Zimbabwe is still experiencing its worst economic and political decline for decades and there is no end in sight. Many of my countrymen have found solace on South Africa’s shores; its proximity to home made it particularly appealing. Those who were better off headed to London, UK – aptly nicknamed Harare North – or Down Under to Australia.
Many of Zimbabwe’s best and brightest are wasting away in South African restaurants, as security guards and cheap labour and have long accepted their fate. I have a sibling, a brother who is 21 and has completed his school education, but his prospects look dimmer by the day as my family cannot raise enough money for him to enrol at a local university. I can see him joining the many young Zimbabweans hoping to change their prospects in South Africa.
It’s no secret that getting a good job is hard in South Africa, and it’s even harder if you a foreigner with a journalism and media studies degree. It’s not a critical skill the South African government wants; the country already has many good journalists and media practitioners.
Nevertheless, I seem to impress someone now and then and I get invited for interviews and subsequently receive an offer. However, the prospective employer always wants me to come with my own work permit. From where exactly? I don’t know. The South African government doesn’t just issue work permits like confetti. So I am stuck between a rock and a hard place.
The Department of Home Affairs has rearranged the processes of applying for permits and has become inaccessible ever since they introduced an intermediary in the form of VFS Global. There’s no visa for a Master’s degree holder who has spent a good six years legally in South Africa on study permits. Applicants now also have to apply for a permit from their country of origin. This is both time consuming, a waste of money, and a bit silly if you consider that a South African embassy in your country of origin is considered to be South Africa. So you are leaving South Africa to apply for a permit in South Africa.
The challenges in accessing these permits have fuelled rampant corruption at the department, whether they accept it or not, because we now have to solicit work permits through ingenious ways so as to be gainfully employed.
I have considered buying a “permit”, but I am scared of the consequences. In Johannesburg, work permits go for anything between R12,500 and R15,000. In Cape Town, considered an expensive city to reside in, they are – surprisingly – cheaper. A work permit in Cape Town will set you back just R5,000, and a refugee visa costs a modest R4,000. Bear in mind that these work permits are valid for three years.
For fearful Zimbabweans like me who do not want to put their lives on the line we end up registering for more degrees at South African universities. It appears to be the only way one can legitimately reside and work in South Africa. No wonder Zimbabweans are generally considered intelligent.
It would be worthwhile for the South African government through its Department of Home Affairs to consider new ways of assimilating foreign nationals who have studied in the country for more than five years. Germany for example gives foreign students the right to work part-time while studying; and then stay on after graduation for 18 months on a post-study work visa.
It’s a win-win solution. DM
"Man is by nature a political animal" ~ Aristotle