Immigration to South Africa

According to official South African statistics, as of 2011, 2.2 million foreigners live in South Africa.[1]

Population of South Africa By Nationality and Place of Birth[1]

Black Africans compose about 79.6% (2007 est.) of the population and represent different ethnic groups, including Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele, Tsonga, Venda, Pedi, Sotho, Tswana and Swazi, as well as recent immigrants from other parts of Africa (particularly Zimbabwe and Nigeria). Whites compose 9.1% (2007 est), being the descendants of Dutch, French, British, Irish, and German settlers who began arriving at the Cape from the mid- to late 17th century, immigrants from Europe who arrived in South Africa in the twentieth century, and Portuguese who left the former Portuguese colonies of southern Africa (Angola and Mozambique) after their independence in the mid-1970s. Coloureds (8.8%, 2007 est) are mixed-race people primarily descended from the earliest settlers, their slaves, and the indigenous peoples. The remaining 2.4% are categorised as 'Indian/Asian', including the descendants of Indian indentured sugar estate workers and traders who came to South Africa in the mid-19th (particularly around Natal), as well as a few Chinese South Africans (approximately 250,000 - 350,000[2]).[3]

The 2014 HSBC Expat Experience Report[4] ranked South Africa 14th in their league table based on expat experiences.

As of mid-2010, the South African Department of Home Affairs has removed the ability for people to lodge immigration applications locally and regionally, and these are now all sent to what has been nicknamed "The Hub" by immigration practitioners and consultancies. This is an effort to curb the corruption and bribery which was rife in the local Home Affairs offices, and has to some extent succeeded in doing so.[5]

Immigration figures[edit]

Immigration assumptions by Statistics South Africa to South Africa based on race. Negative numbers represent net migration from South Africa to other countries.[6]

Year African Asian White
1985-2000 635 275 14 476 -304 112
2001-2005 769 038 23 335 -133 782
2006-2010 922 885 34 688 -112 046
2011-2015 1 067 936 40 929 -95 158

Countries of Origin[edit]

Source: United Nations (2017)[7]
Place of birth Population
Total foreign-born 4,036,696
 Zimbabwe 649,385
 Mozambique 381,386
 Lesotho 312,537
 Namibia 174,043
 United Kingdom 123,764
 Malawi 102,327
 Germany 93,660
 Zambia 92,075
 Swaziland 87,362
 Botswana 69,160
 Angola 65,716
 DR Congo 50,340
 Portugal 44,925
 India 39,907
 China 38,684
 Italy 38,515
 Netherlands 33,217
 Congo 32,497
 Somalia 30,847
 Nigeria 27,326
 Kenya 27,143
 Ireland 19,989
 United States 16,713
 Pakistan 16,517
 Poland 16,276
 Tanzania 15,823
 Greece 14,912
 Mauritius 14,043
 Belgium 13,128
 France 12,506
 Australia 11,898
 Ghana 11,013
 Burundi 10,822

Permits and visas[edit]

Foreign immigrants coming to South Africa can choose between a variety of visas and permits depending on their reason for visiting South Africa, as well as the time they would like to spend in South Africa. Immigrants can choose between temporary residence visas and permanent residence permits. In many cases however the person concerned would have to apply and be holding a temporary residence visa for a number of years, before applying for a permanent residence permit.

Work permit options include the general work permit, the special or exceptional skills permit and the quota work permit. Companies, wishing to employ a large number of foreign employees can apply for a corporate work permit for South Africa. Cape Town's growing business process outsourcing industry[8] regularly makes use of this work permit option in order to legally employ foreign nationals for customer service positions.

Investors and entrepreneurs opening a business in South Africa or buying into an existing business can apply for a business permit, also known as a company permit. Partners or spouses of South Africans or permanent residency holders are often encouraged to apply for a life partnership or spouse permit. Business, work or study endorsements can be added to this permit.

For foreigners wishing to retire in South Africa, a retirement or financially independent permit can be issued. Study permits can be issued to foreigners of any age wishing to study at one of South Africa's accredited learning institutions.

When entering South Africa for the first time foreign passports are stamped with a visitor permit, valid for 90 days.[citation needed]

Attacks on immigrants[edit]

On 12 May 2008 a series of riots started in the township of Alexandra (in the north-eastern part of Johannesburg) when locals attacked migrants from Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, killing two people and injuring 40 others.[9]

The violence spread to other townships later that week across the Gauteng Province of South Africa with riots reported in several settlements including Diepsloot, Johannesburg central, Jeppestown, Hillbrow and others.[10] A man was burnt to death near Reiger Park on the East Rand.[11] Police had arrested more than 200 people on charges including murder, attempted murder, rape, public violence and robbery.[10] Armed police used tear gas and rubber bullets to quell rioting in central Johannesburg, attacks on foreigners and looting of foreign owned shops. The violence then spread to the coastal city of Durban[12]

In 2015, there was another wave of violence against foreigners in Johannesburg and other places, which caused panic and despair in neighbouring Zimbabwe.[13]

23-27 March 2019 groups armed with machetes broke into the homes of migrants in Durban. At least six people were killed, several were wounded and their homes were looted. At least 300 Malawi migrants were forced to leave the country. In separate attacks, foreign truck drivers were forced out of their vehicles and were attacked with knives. On 2 April 2019, another group of migrants in Durban was attacked and forced to flee their homes. The escalating violence added tension to the upcoming 2019 South African general election.[14]

New Regulations[edit]

Draft Regulations were published in the Government Gazette of South Africa on 14 February 2014 for public comment. The closing date for public comment was 28 February 2014 but this was extended to 7 March 2014 to allow further submissions.

  • The Act now requires that every child must possess his or her own passport.
  • Study visa will be issued for the duration of the study or course.
  • No business visa may be issued or renewed to a foreigner who intends to establish or invest in a business that is listed as undesirable business undertaking.
  • A person issued with a business visa must employ or prove that 60% of the total staff complement is South African citizens or permanent residents.
  • Quota work permit and exceptional skills work permits have been repealed. A critical skills work visa has been introduced into the Act.
  • An intra-company transfer work visa will be issued for a period of four years.
  • A corporate visa will be issued to South African corporate applicants to employ a number of foreigners for a period not exceeding three years, after showing the need for employment of such foreigners.
  • An exchange visa (for persons under 25 years) will not be granted to conduct work pertaining to an undesirable work as published by the Minister in the Gazette, after consultation with the Minister of Trade and Industry.
  • An asylum transit visa issued at a port of entry will be valid for a period of 5 days to enable the holder to report at a nearest Refugee Reception Office.
  • Cross-border and transit permits have been repealed.
  • Persons who overstay for a prescribed number of times will be declared as undesirable - fines will no longer be charged for overstaying.
  • Section 46, which dealt with Immigration Practitioners, has been repealed as applicants will now be required to apply in person at the Mission in the country of origin or where they permanently reside.[15]
  • Couples now have to prove that they have been in a relationship for 2 years[16][17]

On 28 July 2017 the South African Government has released its anticipated White Paper on Immigration that provides a policy framework for comprehensive review and overhaul of South Africa’s immigration system and the introduction of significant changes over the next two years.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Wilkinson, Kate (15 July 2015). "New York Times & others STILL wrong on number of immigrants in S. Africa". Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  2. ^ Park, Yoon Jung (2009). "Recent Chinese Migrations to South Africa New Intersections of Race, Class and Ethnicity" (PDF). Inter-Disciplinary Press. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 December 2010. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  3. ^ [Statistics South Africa Mid-year population estimates, South Africa: 2007[permanent dead link]]
  4. ^ "HSBC Expat Experience Report 2014". HSBC. 17 December 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  5. ^ "Immigration South Africa™". Immigration South Africa™. 10 September 2010. Retrieved 10 September 2010.
  6. ^ "Mid-year population estimates 2014" (PDF). Statistics South Africa. 31 July 2014. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  7. ^ "United Nations Population Division | Department of Economic and Social Affairs". Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  8. ^ "South Africa "Business Process Outsourcing Destination 2013"". Language Recruiters. 28 August 2013. Retrieved 28 August 2013.
  9. ^ "South African mob kills migrants". BBC. 12 May 2008. Retrieved 19 May 2008.
  10. ^ a b "South Africa: Xenophobic Rage Leaves Trail of Havoc in Gauteng". Retrieved 19 May 2008.
  11. ^ "Flames of Hate". Archived from the original on 21 May 2008. Retrieved 18 May 2008.
  12. ^ "South Africa attacks reach Durban". BBC. 21 May 2008. Retrieved 21 May 2008.
  13. ^ "Murderous xenophobia". D+C/E+Z. June 2015. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  14. ^ Karlsson,TT, Mia Holmberg. "Våld mot migranter skapar oro i Sydafrika". (in Swedish). Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  15. ^ name="Department of Home Affairs"
  16. ^ name="Lagos to Jozi forum",16.0.html
  17. ^ name="News24"
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Immigration to African countries". 1 April 2010. Retrieved 16 August 2016. New amendments to the Home Affairs Act,16.0.html