News / Africa

Migrants Face Frustrating Effort to Work in South Africa

Darren Taylor
Sim Kyazze arrived in South Africa from his hometown of Kampala, Uganda, in 2003, eager to contribute to the economic pulse of the country he considered to be “Africa’s heartbeat.”
The media specialist with a master’s degree from New York University and his Kenyan wife, Denise, a medical doctor, had given up scholarships in the United States and United Kingdom respectively in order to build their lives in South Africa.
“People, especially Africans, can’t believe that we gave up careers in the US and the UK. They still think we’re insane – and after all we’ve been through the past 10 years, maybe we are!” said Sim. He continued, “But we both have strong African identities. We wanted to share our skills with Africans, while still having a decent lifestyle. South Africa seemed like the perfect place to achieve this….”
But while Sim has an academic position at one of South Africa’s top tertiary institutions, Rhodes University in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape province, Denise has been struggling for almost a decade to work as a doctor in the country.
She’s a victim of immigration regulations that prevent many foreigners, even those with sought-after skills like hers, from working in South Africa.
Denise studied medicine in Canada for five years, after which she completed two years of community service there. She stayed to study internal medicine for four more years, supplementing her master’s degree with another in clinical studies from the University of London.
With all of this education and practical experience, Denise is more than qualified to manage the local public hospital’s Intensive Care Unit [ICU].
“The hospital wants her. The CEO has applied a number of times to the provincial health department for permission to appoint her. But they just put roadblocks in [the] way,” said Sim. “She is a permanent resident so she’s allowed to work, but of course, she’s a foreign-qualified doctor….”
South Africa is enduring an intense shortage of medical doctors. In the absence of a qualified medical professional to lead it, the ICU in Grahamstown remains closed. Patients who need intensive care must be taken about 150 miles away to the nearest ICU.
“It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?” asked Sim. “Here you have the perfect person to fill this gap, right in your lap – but you don’t take advantage, simply because that person has a different passport to you….”
In an effort to establish what she needs to do in order to begin working as a physician, Sim said Denise has visited immigration officials at Department of Home Affairs [DHA] offices repeatedly in recent years.
“They just tell [her], ‘You need to do these exams and you need to do those exams and basically every day they invent new exams for [her] to sit. It’s something which is almost intentional. It’s something they do to basically frustrate people,” said Sim. “When she tells them, ‘Okay, give me your exams,’ they always have another excuse as to why she can’t take them at this point in time.”
‘Catastrophic’ restrictions
Denise is presently employed as a medical officer at a psychiatric institution. Her duties are mainly administrative, and her salary is far less than she’d be earning as a physician.
“I think she’s being misused.... She should be treating people who have got medical, internal medicine, problems, like problems with your pancreas. That’s what she’s trained to do. She’s trained to be a hands-on doctor and not a manager,” said Sim.
“Amendments to the immigration act and increased restrictions have made it much more difficult even for skilled migrants to work in South Africa,” said Roni Amit, a senior researcher at the Center for African Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. “We’re seeing a lot of migrants who are professionals being forced into the unskilled labor market because they can’t get documented to work in their fields of expertise.”
She said while South Africa is experiencing dire shortages of both teachers and doctors, the DHA is not allowing many migrants qualified in these professions to register as such.
“In terms of the restrictions that they’ve placed on professionals, I don’t think they understand how catastrophic it’s going to be [for South Africa],” said Amit.
The Kyazzes aren’t convinced that South African immigration officials are discriminating against them because they’re foreigners. Rather, said Sim, they feel they’re suffering because of the “general incompetence” of the DHA.
“For me, I imagine that the incompetence of the South African government is an equal opportunity offender, really! It doesn’t pick out foreigners. It treats us and South Africans equally badly,” he said.
Sim added, “I have experienced immigration officials who just did not know the country’s immigration laws.”
He explained, “When I first got my job, in 2003, it was a permanent job. Now, according to South African law, if you fulfill all the requirements necessary to secure permanent employment in the country, then you are automatically eligible to apply for permanent residency. But nobody in Home Affairs could actually tell me that I needed to apply for permanent residence. So as a result of that, I [erroneously] applied for a work permit. And it took me five years to correct that problem. Five years!”
As a result, Sim was forced to constantly reapply for a work permit. The permit’s regulations meant he had to remain in the same position, without the possibly of promotion, for five years.
He said the DHA officers seemed unsure of what he needed to do in order to regularize his stay in South Africa.
“Always they would tell me, ‘Sim, come [back] tomorrow,’ so I come tomorrow, [Then they would say] ‘Come the next day.’ Every day they have new instructions [like] ‘Can you bring your passport?’ Can you bring whatever…”
He said he was “amazed” by the immigration officials’ “lack of professionalism.”
“You go there and [an official] is eating lunch saying ‘Oh Sim; what can I do for you?’ And he’s having lunch in front of a client. You don’t do those kinds of things…. Food flying out of his mouth….”
Better quality life
Sim said if he had a cent for every time he and his wife had considered abandoning their South African dream in “abject frustration,” he’d be a multimillionaire.
“We could have left easily because our skills mean we can work anywhere in the world,” Sim stated, and added, “We stay because we want the extremely good that South Africa has to offer and we live in hope that the extremely bad, like the crime, doesn’t find us…and that eventually the government will allow us to work to our potential here in South Africa.”
He acknowledged that their quality of life in South Africa is a lot higher than it would be in Uganda. “For you to afford a middle class existence in Uganda you need to be very rich,” said Sim.
“South Africans moan about how life is deteriorating in South Africa. But if they lived in Uganda for just one week they would see the true deterioration of a public sector. In Uganda the roads are so bad that a car that should last you 15 years only lasts five…. For you to have electricity all the time, you need to have a generator. If I went to [a public] hospital to get medical help, I would be in trouble; I would have to go to a private hospital.”
Sim said he and his wife will probably be able to afford a good education for their daughter, who’s now three years old, in South Africa, but that this would be too expensive in Uganda.
“South Africa is still a gateway to the world compared with Uganda. I have a lot more opportunities here than back home. South Africa has opened the world for me. In Uganda the problem is always resources. South Africa, even though it still has an immense problem with poverty, is so resource-rich it’s unbelievable. If you have a decent job here your quality of life is amazing.”
South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs did not respond to repeated requests for comment with regard to this article.

Listen to report on skilled migrants and immigration law in South Africa
Listen to audio on migrants in South Africa i
|| 0:00:00

You May Like

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs