Despite a shortage of civil engineers, skilled immigrants struggle to secure jobs

Maryanne Maina

Maryanne Maina

Over the past 25 years South Africa has lost some 6000 civil engineers. A large number of the civil engineers presently employed are over 50 years old and are nearing retirement. The most acute problem is in local government where vacancies based on current workload amount to at least between 800 and 1200. Worse still, there is no budget for many of these vacancies to be filled, according to the South African Institute of Civil Engineering.

Given these statistics, you would think that Congolese immigrant Koffi Laurent would be welcomed with open arms.

Laurent is luckier than many immigrants because he qualifies for a general quota work permit, which is only available to foreigners with scare and critical skills. But he constantly battles red tape because he cannot get permanent residence.

"I pay taxes like everyone yet I am treated differently because I am a foreigner," said Laurent. "Life is hard for African foreigners here. The government should address this issue. Foreigners contribute to their economy therefore they should make the conditions favourable for us to invest and work here."

Home affairs recently announced a quota of 35000 work permits for foreigners with scarce and critical skills. This will cater for foreign nationals in selected professions to enter South Africa without first having secured employment.

There has been an influx of skilled and enterprising foreigners into South Africa who have been unable to get work permits or have endured a long process to acquire these permits. This has resulted in some of them doing menial jobs to survive.