Should African countries restrict work permits for Expatriate Job Seekers?

A major concern facing companies in Africa is a shortage of qualified and skilled talent to fill job vacancies in the organisation. Companies have no choice but to recruit for these jobs overseas. Many African countries make it very difficult for individuals to get work permits, saying that these jobs should be filled by locals. Is this argument valid? What are the impacts on the companies and the country?

Politicians, when defending restrictive employment visa regimes usually argue that there are so many unemployed individuals in Africa, so why bring in foreigners to do the same job? Whilst this argument may hold for junior level and unskilled jobs, the reality for management and executive jobs is very different.

Companies would prefer to hire local talent wherever possible, for one simple reason – cost. It is much cheaper to employ someone locally, than to have to pay for normal expatriate packages. Furthermore, locals have a major advantage in that they already understand the culture and working conditions in their country. There is no need for them to adjust to a new environment.

Hence, companies in Africa only recruit internationally when they cannot find the right talent at home. Often, it is to find someone with a specialised skill set for an engineering or finance job. The job profile also usually requires this individual to train their local subordinates and hence make themselves redundant over a period of time.

Most of our clients at Datum Recruitment Services are keen to recruit locals, and go to extraordinary lengths to find anyone with African nationality to fill their vacancies. Only when they have exhausted these options do they look to recruit overseas.

In the long run, restrictive visa regimes only harm the company and the country. It makes companies less competitive through increased costs, reduces their growth prospects and their ability to transfer skills to locals. In the end, this regime destroys jobs, which is the main thing the governments are trying to avoid in the first place!

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Comment by martin ziegler on August 22, 2011 at 10:44am
one must remember that one is dealing with African politics and motives. For example in South Africa, the unions have a strong influence and say in the government's labour policies. Unions are driven by their members and nobody wants 'foreigners' taking local jobs. However, as you say specialised jobs require a higher level of skill, which is often not available from the local job market, hence the need to go 'offshore.' unfortunately to have any joy in this regard, it normally invlolves greasing a few palms. Such is the business of majority of Africa.


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