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Immigration laws stifle economic competitiveness

MAUN: The slow issuance and denials of work permits to expatriates has been described as a major stumbling block for Botswana’s competiveness to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and job creation.

This surfaced during a discussion seminar during the just ended BOCCIM National Business Conference in Maun.  Delegates were discussing the topic: The immigration and Visa issues in Botswana’s competiveness. Keith Jefferies, Managing Director for Econsult said addressing work permit problems is essential for attracting foreign direct investment and job creation in Botswana.

Jefferies said Botswana’s immigration system is far too restrictive and not objective and therefore a huge impediment for investment in Botswana. He noted that there had been instances where immigrant workers in the diamond cutting and polishing sector and other sectors have had their work permits rejected.  Jefferies said the immigration department negativity towards approving the work permits of the foreigners reflect the governments negative attitude towards the foreign workers saying this seems to be based on a misconception that immigration is a substitute for jobs for Batswana.

He said Botswana needs to learn from countries like Singapore, which has a population of 5.5 million people out of which two million are immigrant workers. Jefferis said immigration in fact complements job creation as the people applying for work and residents’ permits are mostly investors and skilled workers.

For her part, Futhi Mononi, Vice Secretary of Botswana Bakery Association said the bakery sector has been affected by denials and slow issuance of work permits.  She revealed that the sector is still at an infancy stage and they need certain technical skills, which cannot be found in Botswana, which forces them to hire expatriates. She said some bakeries are in rural areas and struggle to find requisite skills due to rural

to urban areas migration.

Mononi also said Batswana generally have a negative attitude to taking jobs in the Bakery sector, which forces them to rely on the foreigners. She said there is need for change of mindset to make Batswana receptive of Bakery jobs. She also complained that it takes them more than three months to have work permits approved.

The same was also expressed about chartered accountants with revelations that despite Botswana having a serious shortage of chartered accountants, immigration officers take long to approve applications for foreign accountants.

Claude Mojafi, Deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs said despite the concerns there have been more approvals than rejections of foreigners work permits. Mojafi said they use the Point Based System (PBS) to process the applications. 

He said between April-September in 2014, eighty percent of applications in Botswana were approved.  He said those rejected did not meet the criteria while others were denied based on security concerns.

For her part, Maria Machailo, BOCCIM CEO challenged the BOCCIM members to demonstrate to the government that the skills they seek elsewhere are not available in Botswana. She noted that government position is that some companies seek skills outside the country while there are graduates not employed in Botswana.

This view was also supported by the coordinator of the Education Hub Lucky Moahi who revealed that the ministry of education recently did a study and discovered that there is a lot of talent in the country which has not been absorbed into the workforce while the country continues to import workers.




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