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It’s getting harder for South Africans to live and work in the UK

May 2, 2007

Spending a few years working in the UK is something of a right of passage for young South Africans. For citizens of a country with a 41% unemployment rate, lack of opportunity and house prices that are out of all proportion to what most people earn, it is also a way for people to get work experience and skills, earn a bit of money and do some travelling.

Britain benefits by having a constant influx of skilled, English-speaking workers, willing to put up with comparatively poor conditions. The UK doesn’t have to contribute anything to the cost of their education, and they contribute to tax and National Insurance without being able to take much out of the system.

If South Africa can entice its young adventurers home, it too gains, as people bring back skills, money and ideas – and a real passion for what it means to be South African.

So it’s win-win for everyone, although I’d argue that it’s the UK – particularly the NHS, and the hospitality sector – that benefits most.

But – according to this article in the New Statesman – changes are afoot: firstly, it’s going to become much more expensive to get the paperwork in order: the cost of a working holiday visa, for example, will go up from £85 to £190. Applying for indefinite leave to remain has gone up threefold, from £335 to £750.

Even before these changes, staying in the UK was an expensive business: every time you want to extend your visa or change categories, you have to take time off work to apply in your home country. Given the inability of the South African department of home affairs to do even the most simple things, that means at least three weeks off work, and a £600 plane ticket. I’m still paying off my last trip home.

Secondly, Britain is moving towards a points-based system, which will generally mean that only people with university degrees and firm job offers will be able to enter the country.

So what’s it all about? Basically, I put it down to racism. Britain is facing a demographic crisis – it’s aging population means that it won’t be able to service its pension schemes, and most businesses still report a difficulty in filling skilled posts. But with the expansion of the EU, it’s possible to get white people from Poland and other such countries to come and do the work.

Britain is becoming a panopticon society, and the money for surveillance and detention centres has to come from somewhere – so charging legal immigrants more raises cash to target ‘illegals‘.

It’s all rather distressing. Young Europeans have the best of all possible worlds. They can live and work just about anywhere they like. In fact, in many instances, they can live and draw the dole all over Europe. Like most South Africans in the UK, I’d love a British passport – not because I want to live in Britain, but because I’d love the freedom to be able to go and live in the south of France or Italy for six months if it takes my fancy.

The world is increasingly becoming a prison – a gilded cage for the rich, and a concentration camp for the poor. Which side of the fence do you want to be on? Do you have a choice?

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