White Paper on International Migration: hearings

Home Affairs

15 May 2000
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Meeting Summary

Presentations were made by the Foreign Marriage Protection Association and the Centre for Development and Enterprise. The FMFPA presented its particular concerns in terms of South Africans who marry foreign nationals. The CDE emphasised that the White Paper is "not good enough" and encouraged the Committee to welcome skilled immigration into South Africa. Questions followed each presentation. Finally, the Committee discussed the current Municipal Electoral Bill.

Meeting report

Foreign Marriage and Family Protection Association (FMFPA)
The FMFPA called into question the constitutionality of restrictions on employment and study for the foreign spouses of South Africans. It asked that these be relaxed, while at the same time encouraging the Committee to impose criminal sanctions on those who are found to be participating in a so-called "sham" or fraudulent marriage. How the validity of a marriage would be determined was not brought into the discussion.

The Committee Chair, Mr Mokoena (ANC), pointed out to the FMFPA's representative, Mr William Chapman, that aliens have to right to remain in South Africa and that the government has no constitutional obligation to issue visas to them. In short, the Constitution of South Africa does not guarantee any rights for aliens.

Mr Chapman responded that the right of a South African to freedom of association is transgressed by the lack of rights for aliens. The absence of alien rights targets the family structure of South Africans who are married to foreign nationals and thus jeopardises the rights of all families.

Mr Sikakane (ANC) agreed that the fee of over R10 000 to immigrate into South Africa was exorbitant, but went on to ask how the flow of people in and out of the country would be controlled. Would it not be a "free for all"? He also asked why the FMFPA advocated that the courts and not Home Affairs should determine what marriages were fraudulent and which were bona fide. Mr Sikakane said that, either way, the process was costly. He suggested that, in the case of fraudulent marriages, the foreign national simply be sent back to her country of nationality.

Mr Chapman responded that FMFPA is not advocating a "free for all", but that the usual restrictions on immigration remain in place. He noted that there were 367 spousal applications last year. He also maintained that the validity of questionable marriages is best decided by the courts, where decisions are precedent-setting. The bureaucrats of Home Affairs he said, with their powers of discretion, are susceptible to acting like "small gods". This is to be avoided. Courts, on the contrary, send a clear message and there is no question of corruption in an independent judicial system. In this way, the legal rights of families are best protected.

Mr Sikakane (ANC) expressed concern that judicial appeals can be drawn out while, in the meantime, a foreign national can remain in the country.

Mr Chapman suggested that specialised immigration courts be implemented so that delays would be minimised.

Mr Sikhosana (ANC) remarked that a system such as the one the FMFPA is advocating could be seen as an "easy road" to South Africa for foreigners. Mr Chapman suggested a three-year period of marriage verification so that permanent residence status would not be automatically granted. He also suggested that couples be subjected to an interview soon after their marriage so that they would not have time to practice or rehearse for such an interview.

The Committee Chair, Mr Mokoena (ANC), asked Mr Chapman to define the organisation he represents. Mr Chapman said it is an action group that is pressuring Home Affairs to alleviate the problems it has created so that families in which one of the partners is a foreign national can function as normally as any other family.

Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE)
The Executive Director of the Centre for Development and Enterprise, Ms Ann Bernstein, along with her colleague, Professor L. Schlemmer, made a presentation, asserting that skilled migration is the most important issue in South Africa today. It will determine whether President Thabo Mbeki's goal of becoming "the world's most promising emerging market" will be met and will test the government's commitment to economic growth. CDE concluded that the White Paper is "not good enough" since it does not adequately provide for skilled migration to South Africa.

A Committee Member asked why so many skilled people are leaving South Africa.

Prof. Schlemmer responded that this is due to a combination of the international competition for skills and the problem of crime in South Africa.

The Member asked if it was not true that many skilled South Africans leave because they are not in agreement with the social and political reality of the new South Africa.

Prof Schlemmer agreed that there are racists in South Africa, but that these people are the least likely to leave since they are the least able to adapt abroad. In fact, he noted that it is the most progressive South Africans who are most likely to leave the country, whereas those with racist mentalities are most likely to remain.

Ms Maunye (ANC) asked why does the CDE not recommend to businesses that they train South Africans, rather than inviting skilled people from outside of the country?

Ms Bernstein answered that the CDE does so, but also noted that training takes time. Accordingly, South Africa must simultaneously bring in skilled people while training its own nationals.

Another Member asked how immigration would be controlled without quotas or a point system.

Ms Bernstein answered that South Africa is losing skilled people; therefore, such criteria are irrelevant. There is no risk of the country having too many skilled people, she said. In addition, immigrants tend to be risk-takers who create new opportunities. She also noted that few skilled people want to come to South Africa since it is a country struggling for development.

Mr Chikane (ANC) remarked that the country should focus on training, rather than immigration.

Ms Bernstein agreed that she would push the government to train more and that the onus is on the government to implement training. She also asked Committee Members to remember that today's immigration policy is for now, not forever. Over the next 10 - 15 years, more skilled South Africans will be trained.

A Committee Member commented that allowing skilled people to come and work in South Africa is a vicious circle, since these people tend to want to stay after their contracts have been completed.

Mr Skhosana (ANC) commented that whereas South Africans feel threatened by skilled foreigners, it should be the other way around and South Africans should see that the foreigners are helping the country on its path to development.

Mr Sikakane (ANC) commented to his colleagues that he once held a negative view toward immigration but he now feels that he has been educated. He sees his previous views as ones based on fear. He suggested that opposition to immigration comes not from poor South Africans, but from the skilled and educated people who want to put blocks to corner the markets for themselves and charge exorbitant fees.

Mr Chikane (ANC) reminded Committee Members of their responsibility to the electorate and to the process of building now to develop assets for the future. He mentioned the importance of making sure immigrants are not criminals. He mentioned that he sees the disparities of South Africa's past are still in place, but that opening the doors to immigrants is not a solution.

Ms Bernstein of CDE responded that her group is not advocating an open door policy but, rather, advocating immigration for skilled people, not criminals. She said that computer data bases can be used to identify individuals with criminal records. She also asked the Committee Member who had expressed concern at skilled people overstaying their contracts why he had a problem with this. She stated that she saw no problem with a skilled person staying and working in South Africa. On the contrary, we want them to stay and should encourage such people to do so. Ask who benefits from skills being brought into the country?

Discussion of Municipal Electoral Bill 2000
The Committee engaged in an informal discussion of the Bill, focusing on issues such as proof of registration, independent candidates, definitions of terms used in the Bill and access for people with disabilities.


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