Critical SA jobs left vacant in wake of skills exodus

The impact of emigration on the ever-changing critical skills list.
Image: Bloomberg

South Africa has been seeing a steady increase in professionals wanting to emigrate to other countries. By leaving their home country in search of international opportunities, they are also impacting workplaces, higher education needs and revenue collection by the South African Revenue Services (Sars), which can have a detrimental knock-on effect if qualified replacements remain in short supply.

While the grass might not always be greener on the other side, it does not negate the fact that there is a paucity of educated professionals and experienced staff across many industries that contribute largely towards the economic growth in SA.

The impact of emigration on the ever-changing critical skills list

Xpatweb, a specialist immigration consultancy, launched their own independent critical skills survey in 2016. Since then, this annual survey has become a vital contributor to the official Occupations in High Demand List released by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the critical skills list (CSL) issued by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), both contributing to assess skills shortages in South Africa. It also marked the first time that a private company was called upon to deliver commentary during the exercise. Subsequently, it has been used to re-include occupations to the CSL that were going to be excluded. The latest survey from Xpatweb sourced data from 220 notable companies, which included multinational groups and JSE-listed corporations.

It cannot be ignored that a contributor to the ever-increasing skills shortages in South Africa, is the exodus of skilled and experienced professionals moving abroad. Their motivation is to pursue international exposure, take advantage of earning a foreign currency, gain global experience and to create opportunities for their families, which could include a second passport or better education.

Skills going out fast, but coming in slow

The big concern is indeed the sad loss of South African professionals who have chosen to emigrate However, it has also raised another glaring concern. As evidenced in Xpatweb’s Critical Skills Survey, there are companies in dire need of filling key positions to conduct their business. Failure to find suitable South African candidates for these roles, has resulted in Human Resource professionals casting their lines further afield with the hopes of snagging professionals abroad. However, it’s not as easy as finding the best match in a pool of foreigners and then handing them the job.

Before applying for work visas, their qualifications must first be assessed by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and their skills and experience corroborated by the relevant professional body. Only then does the matter progress to the DHA, before the position is finally filled and work resumed.

It is clearly not just about the skilled workers leaving the country. It’s also about attracting and securing critically skilled workers to come into South Africa.

With the focus on a compliant application, compiled specific to the applicant, employer and place of submission to secure a first-time issued visa in the most expeditious manner, it is vital for each step in the process to be handled expertly. The emphasis should be on which processes can run concurrently, which steps can be motivated to expedite the outcome and an overall approach of care and efficiency.

Working with a variety of clients across industries on urgent immigration projects daily, we better appreciate than most the business importance and personal impact of obtaining a legal and correctly categorised visa in the most administratively efficient and timely manner.

Marisa Jacobs is director at Xpatweb.


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Sadly this trend will not reverse under an ANC government!!

And still they cannot talk about economic growth or restructure. They still spout the same economic blah blah we heard for 27 years. Not only young people and mid-career professionals leaving but also mega wealthy people who built large companies. This is like East Germany after the second world war where they had to build the Berlin wall to prevent the people from leaving the communist territory. SARS regulations and forex control are the new Berlin wall.

Things are going exactly to plan… why change anything? They are boiling frogs

With EFF getting more and more support eventually this will become law. Like it or not people of certain hue will be forced to leave, its happened in many countries on the continent

We must be bold enough to use the words ‘black’ and ‘white’. Skilled white people are leaving the country because of affirmative action and BEEE and unlawfulness.

Unfortunately, Brain drain means nothing to the Cadres.

Cadres will replace “‘whites’,’indians’, ‘coloured'” with ‘blacks’ from the rest of Africa.

Fully agreed plenty of highly qualified people i know that cannot get a job because they are white middle aged males. Notably engineers and the like People must be specific csn they not find a suitably qualified person or can they not find a suitably qualified person of colour?

It was about a quarter century ago that the writing was put on the wall. At first it was going to be a transitional thing to address the apartheid era unfairness. After 10 years the call to end the transition period was met with raw selfish aggression and the same writing is still on the wall except now it is a permanent requirement of the new racist regime.

There is nothing as permanent as a temporary government project.

I’ve found that people are not complaining about crime as much these days , it’s become a way of life in SA. That’s absolutely crazy to think….

We have so much economic and social issues we need to face And then throw in a little white guilt just to push any sane and rational person over the line and out of the county.

We have so much potential in SA , it’s a tragic story really

In the business world, you have to choose your partners wisely because their mindset and worldview will have a direct impact on the viability and value of your investment.

We have to choose our fellow citizens wisely for the same reasons because their ability to make laws or to ignore laws has a direct impact on the value of our life savings.

An advert for an industry that exists to service red tape, one of several in SA. (Didn’t someone say something about red tape the other day ?). Job creation after a fashion, but if all the resources devoted to red-tape “compliance” were available for productive activity the skills shortage would be less acute.

The anc is fully aware of what is happening! It is in fact their intention for people to leave.

They have replaced skilled people with unskilled cadre’s for decades now using BEE as their weapon of choice.

Everybody with even limited intelligence could have predicted this would be the result decades ago and have. So no surprise here.

Everybody can also predict that it would put SA into deep trouble going forward and it will probably end up being the biggest single reason for SA to go into an extended recession in the not to distant future. ie. What is ESKOM’s and Municipalities biggest problem?

Don’t think these buggers don’t know this. They do but its about votes and their less intelligent voters wont be able to put one and one together and hope to be deployed to something by a connected brother or sister. Most if not all the skilled people leaving are not anc voters they are to intelligent.

Its the only way for them to stay in power, unemployment, misery, high prices, economic instability and uncertainty, riots, looting.

Why do you think taxes are so high? Its about transferring all the wealth and power away from the citizen so they are powerless to make any sort of change.


The internet and “alternative” financial systems are making it a bit difficult for them now.

They only have local municipalities and BEE infested companies and corrupt Banks to keep fleecing citizens. Loosing control.

Most people are making another plan these days. Wont be too long and citizens will bluntly REFUSE to pay corrupt municipalities and the like.

Guess its a cycle. The NAT’s were in power for about 30 years and guess who would be celebrating the 30 year milestone soon.


I read your comment and I thought of Cambodia.

I have been Cambodia. I have to Killing fields and to S21 prison… and I remember the story that the guide was telling me….

The killing Fields is a heart breaking site to visit. A shrine stands there with all the bodies of all the victims killed by Pol Pot…

The guide said … Pol Pot took power and got the uneducated masses behind him…. they came in and removed all the skilled people from society (Accountants, doctors …. u name it) … if you skilled you were killed…..

So the ANC i think is doing the same… they killing off the skills needed for this economy….. replacing extensively with their low skilled majority….

Populism kills skills.

Under the ANC every key metric is headed in the wrong direction. Every one

And that’s why I’m also making plans to leave.

If anything was going the right way I might change my mind… But it’s sadly not the case.

Where you off to? and what countries are the best?

And that’s why I left SA in 1996. I have been in the Middle East ever since and have ZERO desire or plan to return to South Africa, as sad as it it to say that. I am even trying to convince my mom to move from South Africa to Thailand with me in the not too distant future.

Leave now. I’m a bit older with older kids and I’m getting them out, then I’m going. I’ve been ‘internationalising’ them via education and passport for the last 10 years. They all have transferable skills. All highly talented young people and my wife and I are both experienced professionals, we’ll go too as soon as that process is done. We live in a beautiful place and live a wonderful life but I’m happy to go into a small apartment but have the future of my family secured. I know Zim well and it’s truly a hell on earth. Zim2.0 well on its way to KleptoZania

There are three software developers in my immediate and extended family. One is now in Dublin,one in London and one in Amsterdam. The firms they work for facilitated their move. Helped them in obtaining “scarce skills” visas.I’m not sure how we can reverse this trend.
Have skills will travel.

I suppose soon there will be another card to supersede the “racism card” – “skillsism”??? “No skills” will be the new victim class to be invented by the cultural marxists.

After 17 years in SA, I’ve just booked my ticket out of here. I’ve got BCom, Honours, Certificates and nearly qualified as an CA. My job is on Critical skills. But because I’m on Spousal visa, I’ve waited 3 years for my Permanent residency to be processed. My application for visa renewal is with DHA since February. I’ve got no more patience or years to wait. DHA is an embarrassment, its clerks make their own rules and hardly know the DHA regulations.

Congratulations on getting out of here !!
Best of luck !!

Obviously the right move ! Best of luck !

Whats the problem ? ANC government can still import some more Cubans and all will be glorious …

Yeah, was thinking along the same lines.

They not tooo fazed by people leaving.

They will either import from their communist pals or from the rest of Africa.

There you go! This is the classic experience in “Darkest Africa”.
We can’t retain skills if we dont UNDERSTAND skills. As long as we can dance at political gatherings and chant with clenched fists, the liberation is going well.

BEST WISHES. I qualified as a CA(SA) and left SA in 1996, never to look back. It’s been an incredible ride in the Middle East since then with zero plans to return to SA. In fact, retirement in Thailand beckons in the not too distant future.

Very many of my work colleagues have emigrated, mostly unofficially, over the past ten years or more, so their departure has not been included in the government’s formal emigration statistic. All are from the telecommunications/computer/IT industries with PrEng, B.Sc(Eng), Diploma qualifications, and many years of experience, etc. My son-in-law (senior manager with MBA) emigrated, again unofficially, to the USA four months ago and gained formal employment in Texas within three weeks!!
South Africa is bleeding skills and competency!! And where I live (retired), I’ve noticed that a large percentage of the menial labour is supplied by illegal immigrants from Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Gvt doesn’t keep formal stats – it’s well known they admit they don’t track emigration properly.


They don’t want to keep stats. Could be embarrassing.

In addition there are thousands of skilled qualified people that had to make another plan to make a living. Mostly because of anc racist BEE / AA / EE policies. They have not all left but “work” elsewhere (the cloud) now and are no longer available to be abused with the local racist “transformation” agenda.

Its easy to judge economic success in SA. No load shedding means no growth and that means long-term recession. Like for decades to come!!!!

I’m looking at your last sentence. I was in H.R. for a large international. I recruited MANY Zimbabweans. Some of the best engineers and instrument can hope to find.And good MANAGERS, which is what an engineer has to be. This was very unpopular from my company’s point of view. It didn’t count on our bee scorecard. And what a business trying to get them
legal. Because they refused to swim the Limpopo. And excellent “no chip on shoulder” people.
And they were not popular with the unions; they faced terrible obstacles in disciplinary issues if local subordinates.
I know this is a generalized statement, but many of my former colleagues were Zimbos.
I really can’t recall a rotten apple among any of them.

I’m fairly qualified and (for my sins?) chose the entrepreneurial route.

And what a mistake!

So many people I know overseas have better salaries, better quality of life, less stress, less political volatility, less tax and business admin etc.

Realised I’m the sucker, so I too will be leaving in the next few months…

I left a year ago. Dual citizen by birth. Sold up and quietly departed with my entire family. We just slipped out of there. I am a FINTECH specialist with 33 years of banking IT experience in S.A. Thought I may be too old to get a job over here. Got placed virtually immediately. My (grown up) kids and their families are all here with me. They didn’t stand a BBBEE AA chance in S.A. Now they’re doing fab and earning a mint. Best decision I/we ever made.

Well done. I miss you, but well done.

Which critical skills would these be? I know of plenty of unemployed engineers, with good qualifications and experience, who simply cannot find work due to their pigmentation. The so-called skills shortage is mostly a myth.

A country that is developmentally going backwards doesn’t need engineers, but it does require bean counters to fill in spreadsheets that quantify the damage.

Very sad that populism has also entered this fray. Please tell me, where is the database which objectively justifies this claim in this article justified as to a shortgae of skills in SA? I am sure SA has more skills available than widely acknowledged? Our eceonomy is simply not absorbing the available skills.

You may be right because good jobs are in short supply. This is a moving target and relies on data from reputable recruitment companies. My company is bringing people from Egypt on temporary assignment. When and if the economy grows we will pay dearly for skills. Even Egyptians are expensive when adding patriation costs. What I see is a shortage of capable and motivated leadership. It really is a toxic environment out there.

Many skills are still is SA, yes. But many are no longer available. Many had enough of the anc’s blatantly racist ‘transformation” agenda and made another plan.

The ones that have not made a plan yet soon will.

This country will go backwards for many DECADES to come. So those that are hoping for better times?? Smell the roses or coffee or anything else of your choice. Do you want to “wait” another 10 years to see if it will get better?? OR. It has not affected you much yet??

Don’t be an Idiot man. MAKE A PLAN!!!!

The ANC does not care, so long as they have votes through patronage.

But there plenty of unemployed with std 6 and 8s that would love to fill them positions.

I’m also out unfortunately, one too many close calls with the construction mafia and far more job opportunities and higher pay in Europe. My skilled siblings were struggling in South Africa and are now thriving in Europe.

South Africa is barely growing, so now they redistribute wealth because they are incapable of growing it, or providing an environment for others to grow it.

There are skills in South Africa and some very smart hard working people, just not enough jobs to provide meaningful employment. If you’re not a transformation candidate your options are very limited. If you have the means to leave then do it now, one can always return if things improve in the future.

Look at the Chrome mining industry as a yardstick to determine the future of South Africa. No mining permits, no environmental or rehabilitation plans, no taxes or UIF paid, no health and safety. Strip mine, and truck to Maputo for China. It’s becoming like Congo.
Kenya is fast becoming the new gateway into South Africa, far better location too.

The author makes it sound like it’s people leaving SA who are to blame for the state of the country. I am a master’s graduate and belong to an international professional investment body, but still can’t find a job that pays enough for me to rent close to my place of work. I am still being subsidized by my parents, even though I have been working for 3 years. Why? Well, one of the reasons is that I have received 40+ rejection emails stating EE only role (a debate for another time). another is that there are so few new jobs being created, that qualified people are willing to work for less just to have a job.

I recently received an opportunity to work in a first-world country. My salary (if converted) will be exactly 3x what I am earning now, with my expenses being 1.8x what it is in South Africa. In that country, I do not have to worry about living in a security complex so my car window gets broken into every night, I can use public transport at a tenth of the cost of driving a vehicle, my medical aid is included in my tax, and my pension is not at risk of being controlled by government policy.

How can you blame anyone under the age of 40 who has promising careers, minimal financial capital, and the dream of building a career they have the skills for?

What about our children? Should they be discriminated against for the sins of our fathers?

The situation in this country is a perfect storm. Hats off to those who have the kahunas to ride it out, but some of us are gatvol of being told we are lucky to have jobs

It’s not easy leaving. You have to be 1) young,2) wealthy, 3) skilled.
I’ve travelled extensively in Europe. Life looks good, but people you speak to are also battling to make ends meet. All my grandparents came here from the U. K. – I cant get automatic residence there, but I’ve been there, and umm… no, cant go there.
My Dad was born in Detroit, USA. But I have neither the means nor the inclination to go there. This is all sour grapes, of course.
Will sit here and suffer the shennanigans.

Weirdly there is flipside also happening : foreign companies employing young skilled people locally.

I know of US tech companies with SA people in SA working from home making up majority of global workforce. Reason – very skilled plus it doesn’t hurt that paying a first year data engineer here R35k per month is good locally and is barely what burger-flipping minimum wage pays in California. 180h at $15 is R40kpm…

Here is a irony of it all, it is more black professionals than whites that are leaving and their numbers are growing each day.

I am an expat who one day would love to come home and build a future for my family their but cannot go back until South Africa changes direction, my biggest fear is never returning…

I left because of:
1) Discrimination based on skin colour, every been turned down for a promotion because you have the wrong skin colour, then you must do the work or stand to loose your job
2) Crime in general and lawlessness behaviour. Working on construction projects means you are exposed to striking working who destroy everything and then have the nerve to make demands
3) Poor quality of the education system
4) Poor Return on Taxes, I don’t mind paying taxes but hardly see any improvement the area where I use to live as well as in the lives of those in need.
5) overseas presents opportunities, better living standards, safer environment, fair treatment from the law, higher wages.

There a amazing sense of community when Saffas abroad get together one which does not take place in SA.

In SA, for government, it pays to divide.

I dont wish to report to Managers of the BEE calibre.

Too much of a headache…. and so I started my own business…. less hassles.

Managers in corporate act like they know alot but they know a lot less than you might think!

Go where you are loved and appreciate. Fortunately that’s not in SA so off I go, I’m done begging a nation that doesn’t care for me and others alike to care.

When cyril talks of “our people” in his family meetings, just who do you think he’s talking about?

It’s not you.

That old saying “if you keep company with stupid people you become like them” comes to mind.

So the clever ones left, who wants to rub shoulders with the idiots in charge.

It is very clear to me that “BEE” is being used here instead of saying “black people”. So white people are leaving because they don’t want to work with black people and are disguising it as being anti BEE, and black people are leaving because white people don’t want to work with them. Maybe these two sorts of people will meet again abroad, and we’ll see what happens then.

Such a binary state of mind. Must be easy to live in it. My daughter and her husband emigrated to the Netherlands because there are jobs of any description up for grabs. A restaurant near them had to close recently, because, wait for it, not Covid19, they could not find enough staff! Where is this all black country you seem to believe blacks are emigrating to, where they won’t have to work with whites? How dare you believe ambitious black people are obsessed with their own skin colour, as you seem to be? Worse still, that they cannot succeed if whites will not work with them, how patronising is that? Skilled and ambitious people, both black and white, emigrate for the same reason: they want to get ahead in life and an added bonus is not being murdered for your cellphone.

Reading this comment tells me the country is definitely not at risk of losing you due to skilled migration.

My view is that one should make the best use of opportunities that present themselves – regardless of where in the world they are. The world has become a global village for ambitious people who want to succeed so don’t let the state of any nation deter you. Life is short so make it count.

End of comments.




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