As I see it: in the years to come, we’re going to look back on xenophobia in the same way that we look at racism, sexism, anti-semitism and homophobia.
It’s one of the remaining bastions of “legitimate” prejudice – whereby it’s “okay” to shut people out purely due to the geographic accident of their birth. In South Africa, you can also burn immigrant homes, loot their shops, and anoint them and their children with necklaces of burning tyres for the terrible crime of their birthplace.
But you don’t need to look at the atrocity.
I’m also an immigrant to South Africa. And while I have to pay tax in South Africa as though I were a full resident (for over a decade, I might add), and while I have to contribute to the national Unemployment Insurance Fund every month:
- For any job application, I can only be hired when there are no other South Africans that fill the requirements for that position. And the employer has to prove to the Department of Home Affairs that I am literally the last person on their list of potential applicants before the Department will agree to even consider granting a permit.
- I can never claim unemployment benefits, despite my contributions.
- I don’t have real access to credit.
- I can’t vote.
- I can’t change jobs without applying for a new permit.
- I’m completely subject to the whims of immigration regulations over which I have no voting power.
- Every time I have to reapply for a new temporary residence permit, it costs somewhere in the region of R15,000 a pop. And that’s a pure cash cost – none of the opportunity cost of my time (permit applications take up weeks of working hours, arranging multiple police clearances, medical reports, radiological reports, the list is almost endless).
- That permit application process can take as long as the Department of Home Affairs chooses to take with it.
- And if they take too long, and my permit expires, I’m automatically declared “undesirable” (their words), and I’d be banned from entering South Africa for a minimum of 18 months.
- At any time, after over a decade of living and contributing, regulations could change again, and I would have to leave my life and my home at a moment’s notice.
There is no justification for it.
The whole notion of immigration control began with America trying to shut out the waves of Chinese immigrants in the 1880s. For almost all of human history, men were free to move from place to place. But in the last 150 years, slowly but surely, each country has closed its borders and created areas where certain people are allowed and welcomed, and areas for the unwanted immigrant leeches.
How is that any different to a racist policy of segregation?
And before anyone ascends their haughty horses and declares that these immigrants are stealing their jobs and taking their money (as though, somehow, they have a pre-emptive right to those things because they were born somewhere privileged and the immigrant was not), here is an picture:
According to the last World Bank datasets available:
- Immigrants and local South Africans might send out $643 million a year into the world; but
- South African immigrants send back over $1 billion each year.
Because, South Africa, you too have sent your people out across the world. And they are sending you back far more than you are losing.
Should the world necklace them?
Rolling Alpha posts opinions on finance, economics, and the corporate life in general. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rollingalpha.
Cheydene April 16, 2015 at 15:06
Jayson, I love this…Reply
Cabanga April 16, 2015 at 21:41
America really leads the world on keeping people out – foreigners in South Africa certainly have it harder that many other countries, but context is still important.Reply
Jayson April 16, 2015 at 22:09
Well yes, immigration laws are problematic everywhere.
But I’d say the anti-immigrant sentiment is horrifying on a completely different level here in South Africa.Reply
m April 17, 2015 at 07:23
Sounds like it’s time to apply for citizenship champ. Looks to me like you meet the criteria and it seems to bother you enough to write an article about it.Reply
Jayson April 17, 2015 at 07:36
Haha! Yes indeed.
But even after that happens (if it happens – the DHA is even more skeptical of permanent residency applicants #personalexperience), immigration laws will still be there.
The personal part is not the big issue. I don’t think about this stuff all the time – it usually just forms part of the things on my To Do list, and I complain a bit whenever it’s glaringly obvious (like visits to the bank, etc).
But I fall into the fortunate category of immigrant. I don’t directly face the threat of xenophobic violence (yet?), and I have the means (and I meet the relevant requirements) to live and work here compliantly.
But compliant can sometimes feel a lot like “complicit” and “complacent”.
I think we need a bit more moral outrage.Reply