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Problematising labour migration in Southern Africa

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Problematising labour migration in Southern Africa

Based on a review of existing regional attempts to manage labour migration in key regions of the world, Nshimbi and Fioramonti (2013, p. 50) highlight several possible implications for regional integration and migration management in Southern Africa.

      • The level of economic development of a region and the degree of similarity of economic development of neighbouring countries within the region shape the ease with which it can handle cross border labour mobility. Even in cases of similar development levels (e.g. EU) within a region, governments have been allowed to slow the pace at which full integration of labour markets takes place.

      • Some policies within a region clearly aim at complete free movement for citizens and others aim at managed migration of specific categories of workers.

      • Many regional labour market regimes focus on skilled migration and link this to the recognition of qualifications. Separating out policies on free movement of citizens and formal workers from the regulations covering movements of asylum seekers and refugees has enabled the EU and other regions to facilitate labour migration from within, while acting as a regional ‘fortress’ against third-country nationals.

      • The EU is exceptional in the way it has evolved its regional migration governance policies and system from free movement of labour to EU citizenship and associated benefits and rights to work and establishment.

      • ECOWAS emerges as a best practice for SADC. ECOWAS has the most advanced and best-implemented migration regime in Africa, with categorical legislation and evident commitment to free movement of labour, as an essential element to the Common Market goal, is informative to the SADC.

SADC has significantly progressed towards establishing a free trade area (FTA). However, SADC is the only REC in Africa that has “refused to endorse the general idea of free movement of persons within the community” (Oucho and Crush, 2001, p. 142). Therefore, what systems define regional labour migration in Southern Africa?

    1. Objectives of the study

This paper provides an overview of migration and labour policies in Southern Africa through a comparative analysis of a sub-set of Southern African countries. Within this overall framework the paper specifically aims:

      • To investigate existing policies and related similar regional or bilateral frameworks pertaining to labour migration in Southern Africa and particularly, labour migration originating from Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Malawi and directed towards South Africa.

      • To analyse South Africa’s ‘migration’ policy responses to inflows of migrants from the 7 countries mentioned above.

The key research questions include:

      • What are the prevalent form(s) of regional labour migration governance in the SADC region?

      • What is the degree of ‘regionalism’ permeating national labour migration legislation in the SADC region?

      • What labour migration pacts exist between SADC States at the bilateral level, the level at which Betts (2011) suggested skilled labour migration progress might be better made than at the regional level?

      • How do specific bilateral agreements between South Africa and neighbouring countries impact labour migration in Southern Africa?

      • At the national level, do legislations and policies on labour and migration build on any SADC framework or do they have any regional considerations in their formulation?

    1. Methodology

The analysis contained in this paper is based on a review of primary data and secondary sources.

Primary data included a thorough review of relevant global and regional legislations and a set of interviews and correspondence with key policy makers in Southern Africa. Focus group discussions were also used to obtain primary data. The respondents selected for interviews were chosen on the basis of their policy portfolio and position within the relevant ministries. Secondary data included policy reports and scientific publications on the topic.
The selection of countries was based on geographical proximity and relevance to the South African labour market. All countries included in the study, except Malawi, share borders with South Africa. Countries that are inter alia geographically proximate tend to have a more liberal approach to labour mobility (Nielson, 2002). In relation to South Africa, these countries have also been traditional suppliers of migrant labour, particularly in the mining and agricultural sector. That makes these countries even more relevant from a policy perspective aiming to understand the evolution and prospect of an integrated labour migration governance framework (Wentzel and Tlabela, 2006).
This paper is divided into five sections. Following this introduction, Section 2 discusses regional migration governance in Africa including, briefly, the African Union’s position on migration. Section 3 narrows on Southern Africa and reviews policies and other regional and bilateral labour migration frameworks in the SADC and labour ‘migration’ policies in South Africa, with a specific emphasis on migrants coming from the seven countries included in the study. Section 4 briefly discusses the issues arising in the study. Section 5 concludes.

    1. Theoretical context of migration in regional integration

An issue for review within this context is the distinction between free movement of people and that of labour. ILO estimates that 105 million out of the 214 million international migrants are economically active. Labour migration is significant, especially in processes of regional integration. Proponents of this argument consider harmonisation of policies that provide for good governance in labour migration essential to effective regional agreements. The two notions—free movement of labour and of people—along with the notion of international migration governance need clarification before addressing their realities on the ground.

From a regional integration perspective and the implied goal of Common or Single Markets, discussion of freedom of movement connotes one of four freedoms: free movement of goods, services, capital and persons. In the EU, for example, free movement of each of the said factors is enshrined in the EC Treaty, constitutes a fundamental principle of the EU and forms the basis of the Single Market (European Commission, 2012a). However, freedom of movement connotes more the free movement of workers than that of people in general when spoken of in the context of the Single Market (Nita, forthcoming). This is true of the European project, a case in which the use and application of free movement gradually evolved from fundamentally connoting the free movement of workers to the free movement of people in general. European citizenship, which came with the Treaty of Maastricht, lifted most internal border controls between EU States and brought with it the right for all EU Member States citizens to live and move freely within the EU.

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