Document Type

Migration Policy Briefs

Publication Date



Balsillie School of International Affairs


The end of apartheid undermined the rationale for apartheid-era immigration. Immigration from Europe (which had been declining in the 1980s) dwindled to almost nothing as the new government dissociated itself from the racist immigration policies of the apartheid era. At the same time, downsizing and mine closures in the 1990s led to a dramatic decline in employment opportunities for African migrants in the mining industry. Tens of thousands of local and foreign migrants were retrenched. Although the industry has recovered somewhat, and continues to employ some foreign workers, the overall numbers of temporary migrant workers remain far below the levels of the 1970s and 1980s.

The end of apartheid also brought new forms of labour migration to and from South Africa including a marked growth in irregular labour migration from neighbouring countries and the rest of Africa and a major brain drain of skilled professionals, primarily to OECD countries. Since 2000, there have been two further changes. First, the volume of migration from Zimbabwe has grown dramatically as a result of that country's political and economic crisis. Secondly, South Africa adopted a new skills-based labour migration policy.

The first section of this paper briefly reviews the post-apartheid decline in permanent immigration and legal temporary labour migration to South Africa. The next section examines some of the new migration trends that have become increasingly important over the last two decades. Finally, the paper examines the current institutional context established by the 2002 Immigration Act. In conclusion, the paper discusses the attractiveness of South Africa for African migrants and the main challenges that face the country in the coming years concerning international migration.