Over the last few weeks, political parties have started to take policy positions on certain matters that will form part of their election campaigns. One key thread that has come about across all parties is immigration and its impact on the economy and jobs. This is by no means a bad thing – in fact. it is important that we have moved out of a stage of denial into placing the issue into the public platform for debate. Debating the issue means that we can have honest conversations about the challenges but that we can also find common solutions.
Globally, immigration is one of the main themes dominating politics. Donald Trump’s election was based on anti-immigration stances, Brexit has an element of migration linked to it. And across Europe the rise of right wing nationalism has at its core an anti-immigration stance. With the world changing and inequality rising, the anger of the middle class and the masses is not directed towards the economic elite who often remain largely invisible, but rather towards the migrant workers who are closer to the coal face of daily economic activity.
Yet, who can forget the heart-breaking pictures of migrants filling rickety and unsafe boats to make the crossing from civil war towards a better life. The thousands that have died in a bid for a better life for their children. Must we ignore the plight of our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe, battling an unemployment rate estimated at 90%, as they make efforts to survive and feed their families. Because behind the curtain of immigration lies a massive humanitarian crisis.
In approaching immigration reform, I believe that we must enact practical reforms that ensure and promote the legal and orderly entry of immigrants into our country. Just as important, we must respect the humanity of the people who come our way and who have played a part in building South Africa. To fix the system we need stronger enforcement on the border, at the workplace and from a taxation perspective.
Stronger border controls mean that we can ensure that all entrants have paperwork in order and have been appropriately screened. It will also mean that we better control the goods entering the South African market. We also need a workable mandatory system that employers must use to verify the legality of their workers. With the implementation of a National Minimum Wage we have created the benchmark of what business should pay workers at the minimum level – yet we also know that the supply and demand of labour and basic economics will create a downward pressure on wages.
Therefore, we should ensure that business is regulated in its employment and payment of workers. From a taxation perspective, businesses and small businesses are the heartbeat of an economy. However, if you want to trade in South Africa, you have an obligation to pay your fair share of taxes towards the cost of development of the country. And I say this, not only focussed on small enterprises, but also towards large foreign investors who use transfer pricing methodologies to lower their tax rates and shift profits outside the borders.
Immigration should never be used as a cheap politicking tool. We must always retain the human aspect of the debate. And I think that it is critical that we draft the regulations and reforms that will guide how we address the issues. If we do not take concrete steps to address the issue this year, I fear that often-misunderstood divisions over the issue will only deepen and challenges will grow.
Waseem Carrim is the Chief Executive of the National Youth Development Agency.