Published on Sustainable Cities

Debunking myths about migrants, refugees, and jobs in South Africa

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As one of the most urbanized African countries and the largest economy in Southern Africa, South Africa is a popular and important destination for migrants and refugees from all over Africa, and increasingly, from parts of Asia.

South Africa has over 4 million migrants, including over 300,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. The latest South African census data estimates that migrants account for over 4% of the country’s population. Contrary to what some may think, immigrant workers have had a positive impact on local employment and wages in South Africa , according to a new World Bank study.

The study, titled Mixed Migration, Forced Displacement and Job Outcomes in South Africa, finds that one immigrant worker generated approximately two jobs for local residents in South Africa between 1996 and 2011.  

As you will learn from the video, evidence shows that immigrants and locals are not perfect substitutes in South Africa. As such, immigrants and locals are likely to specialize in performing different and sometimes complementary tasks, which can lead to overall productivity gains and positive impacts on local employment and wages. Further, 25% of immigrants are self-employed, possibly reflecting the demand for the diverse set of entrepreneurial skills they bring, which can result in large multiplier effects.

These findings help debunk existing myths on migration and local jobs in South Africa.  They also help redirect policy conversations and considerations to enhancing development opportuni­ties for local residents, migrants, refugees, and the wider economy – while being cognizant of perceptions and lived experiences of the local host communities.  

Watch the video to learn more. Click here to download the full study.



Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez

Former Regional Director, Africa, Sustainable Development Practice Group

Helidah Refiloe Ogude

Social Development Specialist

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