New Trends in Migration: South African Case Study

As our world becomes more globalized and inter-connected, people – and their ideas, possessions, and cultures – are becoming more mobile.  International migration is becoming an increasingly important part of international development, as well as individual states’ policies.  The number of international migrants increased from 150 million in 2000 to 214 million in 2012.  Migration affects almost every country in the world, and 49 percent of migrants globally are women.  And the World Bank predicts that, as populations age and shrink in developed countries while increasing dramatically in developing ones, international migration will continue to grow as a global phenomenon.

Immigration lines at a Japanese airport
Immigration lines at a Japanese airport

However, the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) 2013 World Migration Report, launched on September 13 in Geneva, states that “migration remains inadequately integrated into development frameworks at national and local levels, and public perception of migrants and migration are often very negative.”  This report uses Gallup World Poll data from over 150 countries to examine how migration affects individual well being, expanding this field beyond traditional economic perspectives.  It also corrects the common assumption that most migrants move from developing countries to developed countries (South-North).   Instead, the data shows that “at least one-third of migrants move from one developing country to another and 22 percent migrate from one developed country to another” (South-South and North-North).  South-South migrants had the worst outcomes and were often unable to afford basic necessities, even after many years.

 “Migration remains inadequately integrated into development frameworks at national and local levels, and public perception of migrants and migration are often very negative.”

South Africa provides an interesting case study in which to examine these recent trends in international and cross-border migration, as well as their impact on South Africa’s economy.  Migrants from other countries have been coming to South Africa for centuries, but the end of apartheid and South Africa’s rise in regional power has led to a significant increase in migration from other African countries like Lesotho, Mozambique, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.

Children from Zimbabwe work at a shelter in Musina, South Africa.
Children from Zimbabwe work at a shelter in Musina, South Africa.

The Center for Global Development recently hosted an event, part of the Massachusetts Ave. Development Seminar series, discussing how South-to-South migration affects native labor markets.  In this event, the recently published paper, “South-South Migration and the labor market: Evidence from South Africa” was presented and discussed by co-author Anna Maria Mayda.  This paper used census and community survey data to answer the question: What is the labor market effect of recent immigration to South Africa?

Migrants are increasingly viewed negatively in South Africa; xenophobia and intolerance of migrant workers have increased in the past two decades. The prevalent anti-immigrant attitudes have, at times, manifested in violence.  In May 2008, there were a series of attacks in which immigrants from Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe were attacked; at least 60 people were killed, hundreds were injured, and even more were displaced.  Sources blame a wide variety of factors for the increase in intolerance, such as anti-immigrant media coverage and policy-making, as well as “a range of factors including high unemployment, porous borders, one of the world’s highest crime rates, poverty, police and government corruption, ineffective service delivery, and an inept foreign policy.”

Mayda and the other researchers, however, found that foreign workers in South Africa are relatively well-educated.  During the period 1996-2007 (the first and last years studied), the proportion of native and foreign workers with less than primary education decreased and the proportion of workers with a university degree increased.  The study examined how the influx of migrant workers affects employment and income at district and national levels.  The results show that, at the district level, immigration negatively impacts employment but not total income.  At the national level, however, the reverse is true: immigration negatively impacts income not employment.  The group also found that immigration’s negative effects were most severe for highly skilled, white South African workers.  In other words, immigration most impacts the least vulnerable members of society, those who are most able to relocate and find alternative employment.

This paper, and others like it, is a valuable contribution to the needed research on how international migration impacts countries’ economies and societies.  The United Nations met recently on October 3rd and 4th, 2013 for the High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, “to identify concrete measures to strengthen coherence and cooperation at all levels, with a view to enhancing the benefits of international migration for migrants and countries alike and its important links to development, while reducing its negative implications.”  International migration, in all likelihood, will continue to increase and affect the economies, societies, and cultures of countries around the world- so it is imperative for us all to understand this phenomenon and its implications for development now and in the future.


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