International immigrants in South Africa face as many obstacles as opportunities for integration under halfway favourable policies. South Africa scores 48 on the 100-point MIPEX scale, close to the average country score of 49.
South Africa’s approach to integration is categorised by MIPEX as ‘equality on paper’, similar to Latin American countries (e.g. Chile and Mexico). Immigrants in South Africa enjoy slightly favourable basic rights and long-term security, but they do not enjoy equal opportunities. In fact, access to equal opportunities is weaker in South Africa than in the average MIPEX country.
South Africa’s approach to integration matters because state policies can influence whether or not integration works as a two-way process. The way that governments treat international migrants strongly influences how well immigrants and the public interact and think of each other. Drawing on 130 independent scientific studies using MIPEX, integration policies emerge as one of the strongest factors shaping not only the public’s willingness to accept and interact with immigrants, but also immigrants’ own attitudes, belonging, participation and even health in their new home country. South Africa’s current policies may encourage the public to think of international migrants as equals and potential long-term residents, but also as strangers. Internationally, the ‘Top Ten’ MIPEX countries treat immigrants not only as equals and potential citizens, but also as neighbours and invest in integration as a two-way process for society.
Some obstacles emerge for immigrants in some areas of life in South Africa. They face slightly unfavourable policies for health and access to nationality, while political participation and education emerged as unfavourable for immigrants. However, compared to the situation in the other 56 MIPEX countries, international immigrants in South Africa enjoy favourable permanent residence and anti-discrimination policies, ranking in the top ten of the MIPEX56 for these dimensions.
- Labour market mobility: Halfway favourable: Although immigrants in South Africa benefit from halfway favourable policies, immigrants on temporary work and (many on) family reunion permits do not enjoy full and immediate access to the labour market. Furthermore, immigrants benefit from little general and no targeted support for their economic integration. All migrants have legal access to social security and assistance under some conditions.
- Family reunification: Halfway favourable: only South African citizens or permanent residents can apply for family reunification, albeit with just a few financial requirements. No integration or language requirements are set, and an inclusive definition of dependency is applied. However, reunited families have fewer and less secure rights, including no right to an autonomous residence permit.
- Education: Unfavourable: jointly with the political participation dimension, policies on education are the weakest in South Africa. Migrant pupils can legally access public compulsory education. However, they face numerous practical obstacles as South Africa does nothing to encourage and support them across the education system (e.g. no language instruction or educational guidance is provided).
- Health: Slightly unfavourable: all migrants are included in the South African public health system, but they are responsible for paying the costs of their medical treatments, which are calculated based on their income and resource levels. Undocumented migrants face additional obstacles related to administrative requests for documentation, but they may receive emergency medical care even if undocumented. International migrants generally enjoy limited information on health from the state and little support targeted to meet their specific health needs.
- Political participation: Unfavourable: jointly with education, political participation is the weakest area of integration policy in South Africa. International migrants are fully denied the opportunity to participate in public life in South Africa, as foreign citizens have no right to vote or to join political parties and no support is provided for immigrant organisations at a national level. However, since 2008, the government sporadically carries out ad-hoc political consultations with foreign residents at a national level.
- Permanent residence: Favourable: South Africa is in the top ten in the MIPEX56 in terms of permanent residence. Migrants who settle in South Africa experience a favourable path to secure their status and equal rights as permanent residents, as they can apply for permanent residence after 5 years of legal stay and are only required to show proof of financial means, for which no source of income is excluded.
- Access to nationality: Slightly unfavourable: the path to South African citizenship is long (10 years) and children born in the country to non-South African parents can obtain South African citizenship upon application only once they reach 18 years of age. Applicants for citizenship have to satisfy some economic and criminal record requirements. Dual citizenship is only contemplated if the other country of nationality allows it.
- Anti-discrimination: Favourable: South Africa is in the top ten in the MIPEX56 for what concerns anti-discrimination policy, with a score of 100. Foreign citizens who are victims of ethnic, racial, religious or nationality discrimination can count on a strong legal framework covering all relevant social sectors, such as employment, education, social protection and access to public goods and services. The country has an equality body (the South African Human Rights Commission) with a mandate to uphold human rights and combat discrimination and there are multiple enforcement mechanisms for victims.