Document Type

Migration Policy Briefs

Publication Date



Balsillie School of International Affairs


Since 1990, there have been major changes to longstanding patterns of intra-regional labour migration within the Southern African Development Community (SADC). At the same time, new channels of migration to and from the region have opened. Labour migration is now more voluminous, dynamic and complex than it has ever been. This presents policy-makers with considerable opportunities and challenges. In order to understand the exact nature of these challenges, it is important to have a good grasp of current labour migration characteristics and trends. Unfortunately, reliable, accurate and comprehensive data on labour migration is not available. The quality and currency of data varies considerably from country to country. A regional labour migration observatory would make the future writing of an overview of migration trends a much easier task.

The primary objectives of this overview of labour migration trends and policy implications is fourfold: (a) to review recent characteristics and trends in labour migration within and from the SADC region. Official statistics as well as recent survey data are drawn on to generate an overall picture of current characteristics and trends in the region; (b) to highlight some of the critical and urgent issues pertaining to labour migration in the region; (c) to discuss the main features of labour migration strategies and policies and legislative and regulatory frameworks in countries covered by the Southern African Development Community (SADC); and (d) to review the prospects for the freer circulation of migrant labour in the Southern African region.

This brief focuses primarily on the period since 1990 and restructuring of labour migration in the wake of the collapse of apartheid, new global migration forces, the end of the wars in Mozambique and Angola and the current economic and political situation in Zimbabwe. Although the brief provides an overview of the region as a whole, the report concentrates on the major labour migration channels in the region (from countries such as Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe to South Africa). The report also considers the nature and implications of new migrant movements to and from SADC.