What is the South African Labour Migration policy all about?

The draft NLMP (National Labour Migration Policy) is the first comprehensive national policy on labour migration in South Africa, covering the management of labour migration into South Africa and from South Africa. It seeks to achieve a “brain gain” (through skills entering the country) and to counter a “brain drain”(through skills leaving the country).

The NLMP has been created to make it legal for the government to regulate the employment of foreign nationals in South Africa.

Why is the policy being proposed?

South Africa is the largest host of foreign nationals in Africa. This is the reason for a comprehensive labour migration policy.

What does the Department of Employment and Labour want to achieve through the new policy? 

The NLMP will attempt to put more power in the hands of the Department of Employment and Labour, rather than Home Affairs, to govern and manage labour migration. Historically, Home Affairs has been the main administrative authority, with the Department of Employment and Labour acting mostly in an advisory capacity.

The policy claims to set out to make labour migration more beneficial to the South African economy, through interventions that will attract and retain skills in the country.

How would the policy affect the economy?

The policy notes that migrant labour is essential to the economy, as many foreign nationals possess critical skills that are scarce in South Africa. The policy aims to attract and retain these skills for the long-term benefit of the economy, leading to a “brain gain”.

How would the policy affect foreign nationals?

The draft policy undoubtedly intends to crack down on foreign nationals unlawfully working in South Africa.

Will the policy even be implemented?

Writing a policy is one aspect, implementing it is another, South Africa does not have a great track record when it comes to enforcing the existing labour and migration laws.

The NLMP’s recommendations have not as yet been promulgated. It still needs to go through a Parliamentary process which shall most likely still take a lengthy period of time.

Currently, an employer who knowingly employs a foreign national, who do not possess a valid work permit and is employed, could be fined or face imprisonment for up to one year for the first offence. It should be noted that even if a domestic worker does not have a valid work permit, they still enjoy all the rights afforded by labour legislation such as the Labour Relations Act, Employment Equity Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

Once the NLMP is promulgated, it shall reaffirm that a domestic worker/ nanny who is a foreign national employed in South Africa, without a relevant work permit, shall not be entitled to continue working legally in South Africa. A domestic worker does not fall within the ambit of critical skills to perform his/ her work.  As a result hereof, persons employed in this sector can be sourced by South African citizens to meet South Africa’s labour market needs.


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