Immigrants: Good or bad for an economy?

I was going to post something on immigration in the future, but seeing as Malusi Gigaba brought the topic into discussion, I decided to throw in my two cents. This is one of those interesting times when I actually agree with someone from the ANC. Our Home Affairs Minister has come against the South African status quo, and said that we should not be fearing immigrants. I agree with him, within certain limits.

Now what does the average South African think about immigrants? I guess it’s no secret that South Africa is a Xenophobia hotspot. We are also a riot hotspot… and what happens every single riot? At some stage in the riot, the locals start looting foreign shops and burn down foreigner’s houses. But one must ask why? Why do they apparently hate immigrants so? When asked about it, they always state that the foreigners “steal our jobs”. (Very ironic, because if you run your own shop, your not stealing any jobs, but rather create jobs for others.)

Now let’s go one step further. If you go to your typical employer – someone in the middle class who employs a domestic worker or gardener – and you ask them who are the best people to employ, then they will almost always name some people group from another country: Zimbabweans, Malawians etc. And the reason is very simple, in general, immigrants work harder and better, are more trustworthy and complain less. For obvious reasons, they can’t mess up in this country, because then they can get deported, or jailed in a foreign country. Also, they already left their country in order to grind out a better living for themselves, so their very mindset is more focused on hard work, and that is what transpires.

Now please note that I am not limiting this to South Africa. I believe it can be seen across the globe. In the USA it were always immigrants who fueled their economy. Firstly Irish, then Italians, Jews and later Asians and it just goes on. There is something that I like to call “First generation immigrants”. These are people who gave up their life and country so that their children would have a better future. Their whole lives are focused on working hard and earning a good income. Their children usually have a lot of that as well, but less, and then from the third generation they are just plain locals. So those first generation immigrants are the best thing an economy can have. They will keep your workers on their toes, they will work hard and complain less.

But are there dangers in getting a lot of immigrants into your country? Yes of course, if you do not monitor and control it well. We saw this happen in liberal Great Britain and Europe. They allowed everyone in, for any reason. And the result was that a lot of uneducated lazy people flocked to Europe, only to become a drag on the economy.

So how should you control immigration? I would firstly suggest that you tighten your regulations to only let people in who are more educated than your average locals. Now of course in South Africa that is very easy, as our literacy rates are among the worst in the world. Secondly have a criteria list to see whether they will be able to offer a positive contribution to our economy. If they will, then by all means, support that. If they will be brilliant entrepreneurs, let them open shops and stimulate the economy. Let them do what they do best, and the whole economy will benefit from it. But watch out to make sure that their children also get educated and trained in profession, so that the second generation won’t have to much of a back-lash.

In Conclution: I believe that well controlled immigration is a key to the growth of any country. You should always ensure that you have a healthy amount of “first generation immigrants”, for who knows what they will accomplish before they work their way to citizenship.


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