Durban – The July riots in KZN, load shedding, loss of employment because of Covid-19 and the shift to remote working has resulted in a soaring brain drain as South Africans pack for new horizons.
This is particularly prevalent among young families across all professions and races, according to emigration experts.
In the run-up to this weekend’s 4th Emigration Expo in Sandton, emigration experts have warned the trends could leave a void as professionals leave South Africa.
Head of sales and relocation at Chas Everitt property group, Leana Nel, said that on the first day of last year’s looting in KwaZulu-Natal, she received more than 100 calls in the first 12 hours.
“It never stopped, I also had hundreds and hundreds of emails from KZN that week from people across all race groups wanting to leave. Some were crying and saying they wanted to leave that day.
“My phone was ringing from 5am and would go on until late at night and even into the early hours of the morning. People were scared, saying they were going,” she said.
But she said emigrating was a long process and could take from six months to a year to wrap up personal affairs.
“But when the sun is shining, no one thinks of moving. When something happens or someone says something, or when load shedding happens, my phone starts ringing,” said Nel.
She added that Mauritius was currently a favoured destination because of its easy access, being only a four-hour flight away, and they welcomed South Africans. Portugal, Madeira, Cyprus and Malta also encourage people from SA because of their reputation for being hard working.
“There are also groups of families leaving, sometimes 10 or 12 families together, so SA is losing future CEOs and business leaders who are going to make other companies across the pond,” she said.
She also highlighted that with SA’s latest Critical Skills List being released last week, some expats were returning, especially from far distant countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the US.
The current surge in emigration has also been ascribed to countries opening their borders and processing visas again after a two-year lockdown, as well as the rise of the digital nomad allowing people to work from anywhere.
Migration Network, immigration and relocation specialists for Australia and New Zealand, said they had seen a surge in interest in South Africans looking to emigrate.
“Australia and New Zealand only recently announced that they will be reopening their borders, so we are only starting to see an uptake now,” said Network Migration director Andrew Kerr.
“Pre-Covid we averaged about 40 families a month, during Covid between 15 and 20 families, but I know that will jump up starting now.”
Kerr said high unemployment rates in the country continued to be one of the biggest reasons South Africans wanted to emigrate.
“They are looking to leave for the same reasons as always, the high unemployment in the country, especially for their graduating children, for the future of their children, because of the high crime rate, etc.”
Kerr added that South Africa would lose plenty of skilled workers to Australia and New Zealand.
“In Australia and New Zealand, there is a demand for skilled workers across most job categories, like healthcare, education, IT, engineering, construction, and other trades.
“I have standing orders for qualified South Africans for both countries across many occupations.”
Immigration specialists Sable International, South Africa, say they too had a big demand in South Africans looking to emigrate.
“It is all those who could not travel during Covid, and then those who are just looking to go now,” said John Dunn, director of Citizenship and Immigration at Sable International.
Some of the most popular countries for South Africans include the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Portugal and the US.
“There are a number of reasons why South Africans are looking to emigrate,” said Dunn. “These include rising crime rates, financial security, better job opportunities, and the ease of working remotely now.”
“The rest of the world is looking for skilled professionals, and the job lists for different countries are quite large, but mainly, finance and accounting, IT, teaching, nursing, engineering, etc.”
Sarah Howarth, organiser of The Emigration Expo at Capital On The Park in Sandton, said the Expo, which includes international exhibitors, showcases a number of different countries other than the usual destinations offering opportunities for South Africans.
“There is an incredibly diverse range of South Africans looking for opportunities and it’s certainly not one demographic.
“People don’t realise that they are eligible to go to countries they may not have thought about, it’s about finding opportunities,” said Howarth.
Owen Farmerey, managing-director of Biddulphs International, said July’s looting triggered countrywide rather than only KZN emigration, which peaked in October but has since calmed down.
“We expected a big spike in demand specifically from KZN but actually it became more of a countrywide phenomenon,” he said.
“Nearly three containers were going out for every one coming in.”
In the years before that it had hovered between one and about 1.4.
Farmerey, like other representatives from removal companies who spoke to The Independent on Saturday, said the UK remained the more popular destination.
Covid restrictions imposed by Australia and New Zealand had slowed down traffic to there, he said, adding that the emigration tended to be “middle-class people with families”.
“People caught a big fright with what was happening in KZN,” he said. “Many who may have emigrated in a year’s time went more immediately.”
He also said his company was helping three times as many people move to Mauritius now than in the recent past.
Paul Benzie, general-manager of removal company Elliotts, said there had been a spike in enquiries, with many people waiting for their visas.
He said 20- to 30-year-olds were generally UK-bound, 40- to 60-year-olds were generally headed for Australia, Canada and the United States.
Mauritius-bound emigrants often got residence status through buying property on the island, he said.
Carla Humans, liability manager at Master Movers, said traffic seemed constant except “possibly an increase to Mauritius”.
Carla-Mari Moore, co-founder of Biggles Removals in Pretoria, noted an exodus from Durban to Johannesburg and Cape Town since the looting, for work reasons.
And not only families are leaving, but their pets as well, with Riekie Fourie from Animal Travel Services saying they have seen an increase in emigration.
“The majority of people that emigrate are taking their pets with them or arranging for their pets to be exported as soon as they are settled in their (new) country,” she said, highlighting that there had been issues of flight availability for pets because of Covid lockdowns.
“With many countries not allowing entry from South Africa, passenger flights were rare and even though cargo flights have been available, acceptance on these flights are not as frequent as passenger flights. General cargo has been prioritised for many of the cargo flights, so that the airlines can make up for the revenue lost due to the lack of passenger flights,” she said.