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As COVID brakes ease, emigration expected to rise

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Emigration is expected to increase in the months and years ahead as South Africans struggle to survive in a battered economy and volatile political climate exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

While most South African Jews leaving the country have chosen to settle in Israel, some are looking at other prospects.

Robbie Ragless, the director of New World Immigration, says he has “definitely seen the rate of enquiry [about emigration] increase, especially from business people. The economic climate and political uncertainty mean business people especially are looking at moving”.

“They don’t have confidence in the economy going forward and [in] South Africa being a viable place to conduct business. We have also seen increased interest in family visa enquiries. We focus on skilled migration, and haven’t seen too much of an increase on that front, but we believe this will start picking up due to the uncertainty of the future in South Africa.”

He says people make enquiries first about Australia, then Canada – which has a liberal immigration policy and many can qualify, so it’s very popular – and then the United Kingdom. In between, are enquiries for New Zealand, “which is somewhat difficult, as you need a job offer”.

The challenges of emigrating under lockdown include “border restrictions and job losses abroad, which may result in governments changing regulations to accommodate unemployment in their country. There is talk of that happening, especially in Australia. However the United Kingdom, Canada, and America are all pretty proactive in attracting foreign investment and the right skills set.”

Ragless believes that once people have more access to a disposable income, there will be a huge uptick in enquiries and commitment to the process. “Politics, the economy, crime, uncertainty, the downgrade, and corruption are all push factors, and these have never been more prominent, so we are expecting a big increase,” he says.

Immigration lawyer Gary Eisenberg says, “The past year has definitely seen an uptick in enquiries about emigration. However, lockdown has created a kind of stasis or moratorium preventing people from moving forward with these plans.”

Russel Fischer of Russel Fischer Properties in Johannesburg says, “We have noticed a trend of young professional South Africans emigrating, seeking more lucrative positions abroad.

“[There were] a few families already in the process of emigrating pre-lockdown, whose plans have been delayed indefinitely. The chosen countries are usually where family members hold ancestral visas or are being sponsored by other members, namely Europe, Australia, and America.”

Spencer Schwartz of You Realty says, “There are many more sellers than there were six months ago. Buyers have so much more choice than before. There has definitely been a huge increase in families emigrating, obviously most that I know are Jewish. They feel the country is slowly getting worse, and therefore, many clients are selling to emigrate. Most that I’m aware of are going to Israel, but there are significant numbers going to London and Australia.”

He attributes the desire to leave to “huge concern about security”. “The highly educated are looking for jobs and career advancement. Many have lost jobs and their business, and would rather opt to rebuild in Israel. At the same time, a complete life change, with more security, and lower education and medical costs are a huge factor in their consideration.”

Tanya Kovarsky emigrated with her family from Johannesburg to Amsterdam in July. Their move was delayed by lockdown measures.

“A few months after our decision, we put our house on the market. We got an offer in February, and then the deeds office closed for level-five lockdown, which delayed the transfer. Fortunately, it opened in level four, so the transfer wasn’t delayed too much and it occurred towards the end of May. Pre-COVID-19, we were aiming to leave in May or June, but our timing was delayed.

“We wanted to be in Amsterdam before the start of the school year [the middle of August] and get our lives going this side, so decided to leave in the middle of July while still in lockdown. Our only option was a KLM repatriation flight, so we were also a bit bound to its timing as it had flights only every two weeks from Johannesburg to Amsterdam. A one-way repatriation flight cost us almost double what a return flight might have cost, and there was some admin needed to travel such as permission from home affairs and the Dutch embassy.

“We chose to leave because we wanted to try out a new lifestyle and have a European ‘adventure’, which included a safer space for our kids,” she says. “While it’s been hard to leave the familiar and our friends and family, we’re happy to be here now. Our lifestyle has completely changed. My son is walking by himself to school, and we’re cycling to the shops. For now, it makes sense and suits us, and we’re hoping our children will thrive.

“Emigrating during lockdown actually made the separation so much easier,” she says. “For months, I had missed out on being with family and friends, running races, and so on, so leaving South Africa was a little easier as we had left those things behind in March already and a lot of the longing and ‘grieving’ process took place then.”

Shaun Stoch and his wife, Raffaella, made the decision to emigrate to Vancouver, Canada, towards the end of 2018 because of uncertainty in South Africa. “There were also pull factors which were appealing to us,” he says. “We decided to go in July 2020, based on our visa. “We couldn’t let COVID-19 stop us. We had an expiry date on the visas and had to leave.”

He says the process was tough. “The challenge was in not saying goodbye to many older people that we wanted to see in person due to the risk. Another challenge was booking these crazy, expensive repatriation flights [R45 000 each one-way with extra baggage], along with booking the flights three weeks before we could fly. We packed up many of our things before even booking flights, so we planned ahead, which was good.

“Saying goodbye at the stadium meeting point was hard, and getting on buses to the airport was not a great experience. Flying for 30 hours with masks was tough as well, but we knew it was for the best! We landed and went through the normal immigration process. We taxied with masks on to a house, where we stayed for two weeks.

“We couldn’t leave the house for two weeks, so we ordered groceries and whatever we needed online, and the government called to check on how we were doing, which was nice. It was surreal, but two weeks to settle in and absorb what had happened was actually positive. We might not see family for a while, but thank G-d for video calling.”

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