South African Emigration Patterns and Their Impact on the South African Economy

Matt Di Vincere (Chief Editor)
Last Edited Sep 13, 2022

Recently it has become popular for the white population of South Africa to emigrate to other countries. Given that the stability of South Africa has been difficult to predict, it has made the younger generation wonder what opportunities they could potentially have in future years. While there are a variety of reasons that are causing this shift, it has left repercussions within the South African economy that will be difficult to recover from for many generations.

When contemplating whether immigrating to South Africa is wise of emigration is the only path as a local resident, consider the conversation below:

Why So Many Individuals Would Like to Move Elsewhere

There has been a net loss of around 62,000 white South Africans between the years of 2002 and 2017. Now, this is under 2% of the total white population, so it isn’t as much of a race crisis as once reported. This is only “net” statistics (not the nominal amount leaving), so to suggest that whites are not leaving the country is also untrue. It’s also estimated that net migration to other countries by whites is around 600,000 in the previous three-and-a-half decades.

Previously, the issue of security has always been an issue in South African and continues to be today. The average resident in South Africa has at least five locks on their doors due to the frequent thefts occurring from members of the lower class that barely have enough food to survive. Security is also an issue on the streets when travelling in taxis and pickpockets in popular areas. These issues, combined with armed violence, have always made security one of the top reasons that individuals have decided to emigrate from South Africa.

Currently, South Africa has had a great deal of instability and political uprisings that are centred around black empowerment. For whites, this is threatening to the future of their children because they are concerned that their children will not have the same opportunities that they did. Since South Africa is a unique country with its acute race relations sensitivity in the era following Apartheid, it is no wonder that the white families are examining their options for residing outside of the country if the economic opportunities and safety of their children have the potential to be shifted.

In addition to the white population that has placed queries to emigrate, there has also been a trend for citizens that are black, coloured, and Indian to leave the question as well. In fact, it’s now being reported that more black than white South Africans are leaving to other countries, as the economic downturn has pushed them out to the likes of New Zealand, Australia and Portugal. These queries have come from a wide range of talented professionals that include doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and talented professionals.

How It Impacts the South African Economy


The movement of skilled workers, regardless of race, has a major impact on the South African economy. What has ended up happening is that the professionals with the qualifications that could positively impact the economy have left leaving a hole in the skilled workers that are available to further drive the success of the country? This is not only limited to professionals, but also to skilled tradesmen that streamline the economic success of the country. Without the innovation of skilled professionals and entrepreneurs, it is quite difficult for South Africa to have progressed in the professional sphere.

Another impact that the South African economy has seen is that it has an ageing elderly population that has since retired without the younger workforce to fill the void. This void in skilled workers combined with the heightened race empowerment movements paralyzes the country’s potential economic successes as the size of their workforce continues to shrink as the elderly population decides to retire and leave the workforce.

Since the average age of immigrants has been between the ages of 20 and 40, it not only leaves a gap in the workforce, but also a gap in the workforce of subsequent generations. This impacts the country’s education system as well given that they are using government resources for many of their citizen’s education and then those citizens are deciding to relocate to better opportunities abroad. Furthermore, the children of those immigrants will be raised outside of South Africa and not only be distant from their cultural identity but also, from the opportunity to bring their unique skill sets to the South African economy.

As touched on above, the issue is cyclical. Professional workers are looking at the economic downturn and thinking that their wages may be higher elsewhere. With the movement of capital being so frictionless, and with few language barriers, South Africans are emigrating for economic reasons. This further reduces both the demand in the economy and the productive capacity – further damaging the economy and making emigration look all the more alluring.

A recent IMF report signals that medium-long term growth is not looking promising (which again, highlight their need to retain skilled workers), whilst there is low per capita GDP growth. South Africa has even been downgraded from “stable” to “negative” by the S&P Global Ratings, as they highlight their growing debt problem and increasing fiscal deficits. That’s the real issue here too – South Africa frantically turning to fiscal policy when the issue seems to be just as much supply side perpetuated by emigration as it is demand side. This is further confirmed with inflationary pressures existing, which needs to be fixed with supply-side policy as opposed to worsened further fiscal spending through debt.

Final Remarks on the Subject

In summary, there has been a substantial shift in the South African population in recent years – particularly when accounting for the previous three decades. While individuals at first attributed it to whites leaving the rising black empowerment movement within South Africa, there is more to the reasoning as to why individuals have decided to leave. The threat of security has always been prominent in South Africa, but now, there are talks of lack of economic and professional opportunities that will be facing future generations. This issue is something that has the potential to make a substantial impact on the economy of South Africa since the country will be educating skilled professionals and then they will be emigrating elsewhere to popular destinations such as Australia and New Zealand. In future years, it will be fascinating to see what shifts the workforce sees due to the increasing numbers of South African citizens are emigrating to countries around the globe.


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