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.
     
    ‘Roadblocks’
     
    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.
     
    “Incompetence”
     
    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
    ...    
     
    X

    You May Like

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    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.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.