Document Type

Migration Policy Briefs

Publication Date



Balsillie School of International Affairs


The extent of South Africa’s “illegal immigrant” problem continues to confound. Numbers in the millions continue to be casually thrown around by officials, politicians, and the local and foreign press. The study on which these millionaire estimates are based has been widely discredited. But those who are critical of the study and skeptical of the inflated numbers are unable to come up with alternative numbers. Their response is usually that the extent of undocumented migration is, by definition, unknowable. True as it might be, this response unfortunately does not help very much. In this paper, the author attempts to break down the various categories of irregular migration and employment in South Africa and to assess what is and what is not known statistically about each. The paper also attempts to develop a defensible set of estimates about the extent of undocumented migration.