DAN BROTMAN: I’m not wanted in SA
Home affairs’ policy of effectively deterring skilled immigration comes at a great cost to SA. Why doesn’t the business community speak out?
I recently returned from Berlin, where I took some of SA’s top property financiers to explore why Germany’s capital city has become the most profitable residential property market in the world.
From tech entrepreneurs to small business owners, it became apparent that Berlin’s economic revival is due largely to its ability to attract skilled entrepreneurs, freelancers and software developers from across the globe. Investors we met recalled that as recently as a decade ago, Berlin was not viewed as a desirable city in which to live because it lacked industry as a result of it being destroyed during World War 2 and then divided between East and West during the Cold War.
We met brilliant immigrants throughout the week, such as a Canadian ex-McKinsey consultant building a blockchain-based real estate trading platform, a Spaniard revolutionising the green energy sector and two Israelis who founded a deep-tech venture capital fund.
They came to Berlin due to its affordable, high-quality lifestyle and Germany’s liberal immigration policies. We were told that Berlin has become the biggest European beneficiary of the 2009 financial crisis, and Brexit. Skilled southern Europeans and UK residents are flocking to the city to participate in Germany’s booming economy and experience the city that the World Economic Forum recently described on its website as the "best city for millennials".
I contrast what I saw in Berlin with how skilled immigrants, including myself, are treated in SA. I recently met automotive professional Raj Gusain, whose citizenship application was approved last May. As India does not permit dual citizenship, he, his wife and SA-born son were told by the home affairs department to renounce their Indian citizenship before the naturalisation ceremony was to be held the following month.
They were meant to be stateless for only a few weeks between renouncing their Indian citizenship and taking the oath as new SA citizens. However, the ceremony was postponed twice and never rescheduled, resulting in them being rendered stateless for more than a year. This meant the family was unable to travel to New Delhi to say goodbye to Raj’s mother right before she passed away.
My own experience fighting to obtain SA citizenship has left me questioning my future here
My own experience fighting to obtain SA citizenship has left me questioning my future here. Home affairs lost my citizenship application in 2016, and the following year unlawfully rejected it on the basis of an arbitrary regulation that the high court in Cape Town recently confirmed was inconsistent with the constitution.
The company I co-founded has taken hundreds of SA businesses overseas to provide them with exposure for global expansion, in addition to creating employment for South Africans. I pay personal and corporate taxes and take nothing from the state. It boggles my mind that the department would want to block an eligible, law-abiding, job creator such as myself from obtaining citizenship, while waiving all requirements for the Gupta family.
I work with some of the country’s top corporates, including banks, insurance and medical companies. What strikes me is that I am often the only person in their head offices with a foreign accent.
This means these companies are hiring only from a limited pool of individuals who attended a handful of local universities.
A colleague’s foreign life partner, who holds a master’s degree in organisational psychology from a British university, has been repeatedly told by private-sector employers they will not even consider her job application due to her nationality, despite the fact that she has the legal right to work in SA.
I have spent significant time at Silicon Valley-based companies, which are staffed by bright minds from all over the world. I question how SA’s private sector plans to be globally competitive when it overlooks talented foreign nationals.
US big business is vocal on immigration reform. Over the past two weeks, business titans such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook have been personally outspoken on the Trump administration’s implementation of a policy that separates undocumented children from their parents on the US-Mexico border. Cook believes Apple can be a "constructive voice" on the situation, and Microsoft released a statement calling for the "administration to change its policy and Congress to pass legislation ensuring children are no longer separated from their families".
In the eight years I have lived in SA, I have not once seen a large business organisation challenge government for its inhumane and economically detrimental immigration policies.
If home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba continues to deter skilled immigration and the private sector does not start engaging on immigration reform, we can expect young SA professionals and their foreign counterparts to take their skills to places that embrace globalisation and entrepreneurship, including, but not limited to, Berlin.
• Brotman is an American-born Israeli entrepreneur based in Johannesburg. He applied for SA citizenship in April 2016 and is still waiting for his application to be finalised.