Country Profile: Republic of South Africa

Country Profile: Republic of South Africa

Capital City: Pretoria

Population, 2010: 50.5 million

Languages: English & Afrikaans

Monetary Unit: South African Rand

1. Overview

Migration from South Africa to Australia increased rapidly in the 1990s due to the changing political situation. Today it remains relatively strong with 11 948 permanent additions in 2009-10, only a slight decrease of 0.4 per cent from 2008-09. The vast majority of South African migrants come to Australia via the Skill Stream, though a large proportion of these new additions are dependents of the Primary Applicant. For South Africans, the number of permanent visas granted annually has doubled since 2006-07.

With a population of around 50.5 million, South Africa is an upper-middle income country, although there remain large disparities in income. South Africa’s main long-term social and economic challenges are the high rate of unemployment, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and high levels of violent crime. For South Africa’s skilled population there is a strong economic incentive to migrate, on a purchasing-power-parity basis South Africa’s per capita GDP is a little over a quarter of Australia’s and the unemployment rate in December 2010 of 24 per cent was much higher than Australia’s 5.0 per cent. In 2009-10, 7.5 per cent of the total tertiary-educated population were living outside South Africa.

There were 149 020 South African expatriates in Australia in 2009. Australia is the third most common destination country for South Africans choosing to live abroad. In 2009-10 skilled visas made up 89 per cent of permanent visas granted to South Africans and the number of skilled visa grants has more than doubled since 2006-07.

A summary measure of well being is the Human Development Index (HDI), produced by the United Nations. The HDI is a composite measure of three dimensions of human development: health, education and income. Australia ranks very high on this measure, with a 2010 score of 0.94, second only to Norway.

Table 1

South Africa’s HDI in 2010 was 0.66 – giving the country a rank of 110 out of 169 countries. Although this ranking is quite low in international terms, South Africa’s HDI of 0.66 was in line with the the regional average of 0.65 for Sub-Saharan Africa in 2010.


2. Community in Australia

At the end of June 2009 there were 149 020 South Africa born people living in Australia, 43.2 per cent more than was reported in the August 2006 Census of Population and Housing. This is equivalent to 1.7 per cent of Australia’s overseas born population and 0.7 per cent of Australia’s total population.

For Australia’s South Africa born migrants:

  • Their median age of 38 years, was one year above that of the general population.
  • Males and females were equally represented.
  • At June 2010 the unemployment rate of 4.5 per cent, was slightly lower than the national rate of 5.2 per cent.*
  • The labour force participation rate was 76 per cent, considerably higher than the national rate of around 65 per cent.
  • 100 800 South African born people were employed in Australia at September 2010, of these – the largest components were professionals (34.4 per cent) and technicians and trade workers (13.4 per cent).


3. Permanent Migration and Temporary Entry

Summary, 2009-10

Permanent Additions to the Australian Population*

There were 11 948 South Africa born permanent additions to the Australian resident population in 2009-10. Among the new additions to the Australian resident population:

  • The Skill Stream accounted for 85 per cent of all permanent additions and comprised 3119 skilled migrants and 7037 accompanying family members.
  • The Family Stream comprised 1255 family migrants and accounted for 11 per cent of all permanent additions.
  • Non-program migration of South African born New Zealand citizens accounted for the bulk of the remaining 4 per cent of permanent additions.


There were 11 081 South African nationals that were granted a permanent visa, among the new permanent visa holders:

  • The Skill Stream accounted for 89 per cent (9855 persons) of the permanent visas granted, with employer sponsored migrants accounting for half of skilled visa grants.
  • The Family Stream accounted for 11 per cent (1220 persons) of the permanent visas granted, nearly half (46 per cent) of all grants to parents of Australian residents.


Temporary Entry Visas Granted, 2009-10

Table 3 & 4

Of the main temporary entry program visas granted to South African nationals:

  • 591 Student visas were granted, of which almost half (46 per cent) were granted to those intending on pursuing a Vocational Educational and Training course in Australia.
  • 2 780 South African workers were granted a Business Long Stay (subclass 457) visa, with Registered Nurses, Computing Professionals and Specialist Managers among the main occupations for which Australian employers recruited from abroad.
  • 37 072 Visitor visas were granted.


Detailed Analysis

Permanent Migration Visas Granted

Table 2 & 4

Skilled Migration

Skilled migration is focused on facilitating the permanent entry of those who can make a positive contribution to Australia through their skills, qualifications, entrepreneurial spirit and future employment potential.

  • Skilled visa grants to South Africans fell 6 per cent in 2009-10, exactly in line with the national decline. However, while total skilled visas granted have only increased by 10 per cent since 2006-07, those granted to South Africans have more than doubled.
  • Over the past four years the share of migrants coming from South Africa has increased significantly. In 2009-10 there were 9855 skilled visas granted to South African nationals – a 9.1 per cent share of the 107 868 skilled visas granted that year up from 4.4 per cent in 2006-07.
  • Of these 9855 grants in 2009-10, 3119 were to Primary Applicants, making South Africans the fourth largest group of Skilled Primary Applicants. Their most common occupations were accountants, computing professionals and registered nurses.
  • Skilled migration is the predominant route for a majority of South African nationals seeking permanent residency in Australia. In 2009-10, skilled migration accounted for almost 9 in every 10 permanent visas granted to South African nationals through the Migration Program.
  • Reflecting the shift in skilled migration towards, demand-driven entry, there has been substantial growth in the employer sponsored component, increasing from 1961 visas granted in this category in 2006-07 to 4929 grants in 2009-10.
  • Almost half (46 per cent) of the skilled visas were granted under the points-tested General Skilled Migration* Program, with numbers increasing from 2158 grants in 2006-07 to 4492 grants in 2009-10 running counter to an overall decline.
  • Accountants, Computing Professionals and Secondary School Teachers were among the main occupations among the new General Skilled Migration visa holders.


Family Migration

Family migration facilitates the entry of close family members of Australian citizens, permanent residents and eligible New Zealand citizens. The program is currently dominated by fiancés, partners and dependent children, but also provides options for other family members such as parents, aged dependent relatives, carers and remaining relatives to join family in Australia.

  • In 2009-10, 60 254 Family visas were granted, with grants to South African nationals accounting for 2.0 per cent (1220 grants) of the total.
  • The number of family visas granted to South Africans fell slightly in 2009-10 but has increased 23.6 per cent since 2006-07.
  • The Family Stream accounted for 11 per cent of all permanent visas granted to South African nationals, down from a 19 per cent share in 2006-07. This fall reflects a shift towards skilled migration rather than a decline in numbers of family stream migrants – noting that these have risen.
  • The South African parents of Australian residents accounted for nearly half (46 per cent) of all visas granted in the last year, while a further 32 per cent were partners of an Australian resident.


Temporary Entry Visas Granted
International Students

The Student Visa Program consists of a range of visa categories that broadly correspond to education sectors. Students must study with an education provider and in a course registered on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students.

In 2009-10 there was a reduction in both the number of student visa applications received and the number of visas granted. Reasons included increased competition from overseas markets compounded by the strengthening of the Australian dollar, the introduction of robust student visa integrity measures and changes made to the General Skilled Migration program. While student visa grants fell by over 15 per cent, the total stock of international students in Australia remained relatively unaffected, only decreasing 1.1 per cent in 2009-10.

  • As at June 2010, there were 900 South African student visa holders in Australia, representing 0.3 per cent of all international students in Australia.
  • Though the numbers of South African students are small compared to other country groups, Australia is the fourth most popular tertiary study destination for international students originating from South Africa. In 2008, 10 per cent of all South African international tertiary students chose Australia.
  • In 2009-10, 591 South African nationals were granted a student visa – down 8 per cent on the previous year. Of the new visas granted in 2009-10, almost half (46 per cent) of the grants went to students intending on pursuing a Vocational Education and Training course in Australia.


Business Long Stay (subclass 457) Workers

The subclass 457 visa program allows Australian employers to sponsor foreign workers for employment in management, professional, technical and skilled trades’ positions. The program is demand-driven and highly responsive to Australian labour market conditions. Statistics shows that the demand for subclass 457 visas increases in line with increased skilled vacancies.

The demand for foreign workers under this program declined following the economic downturn, but application rates steadily increased over the second half of 2009-10. In recent months business conditions have begun to improve and the number of applications lodged has increased.

In 2009-10, 67 980 visas were granted globally, a reduction of 33 per cent on the previous year.

  • South Africa is the fourth largest source of Australia’s subclass 457 visa migrants with 9570 South Africa born migrants on this visa in Australia at June 2010, of which 3570 were Primary Applicants.
  • In 2009-10, there were 2780 subclass 457 visas granted to South African nationals, representing 4 per cent of the total granted.
  • Subclass 457 visa grants fell 33 per cent overall in 2009-10, but grants to South Africans declined even more steeply, by 71 per cent.
  • Registered Nurses, Computing Professionals and Specialist Managers were the main occupations for which Australian employers recruited from South Africa.



The vast majority of temporary entrants from South Africa are visitors here for a holiday or a short business visit. In 2009-10, there were 37 072 visitor visas granted to South African citizens-placing South Africa at 18th on the list of visitor source countries to Australia. This was a decrease of just over 10 per cent on 2008-09.


4. Emigration*

Table 5
In 2009-10, 758 South Africa born permanent residents indicated at departure that they were leaving Australia permanently.

  • Almost a quarter (24 per cent) intended to return to South Africa.
  • Approximately 31 per cent of these emigrants were professionals, while managers and administrators accounted for 11 per cent.
  • The largest proportion were emigrating from New South Wales and Western Australia, with each State accounting for 39 per cent and 21 per cent respectively.


5. State and Territory summary

Table 5

New South Wales was the most popular state of residence accounting for around a third (32 per cent) of South Africa born residents in Australia at the time of the last Census. Over a third (36 per cent) of new skilled migrants from South Africa indicated that they intended on living in Western Australia, while 30 per cent of new family migrants intended on living in
New South Wales. South African international students showed a preference for Queensland and Western Australia – with over a quarter (27 per cent) enrolled in an academic institution based in each of those States. Over one third (33 per cent) of all South African 457 workers were sponsored for employment in New South Wales and a further 27 per cent in Western Australia.


Explanatory notes

  1. Unemployment rates for individual migrant countries are calculated from the monthly ABS labour force survey (using published and unpublished data) and have been averaged across six months to account for monthly fluctuations and a small sample size. The national unemployment rate is the seasonally adjusted figure for December 2010.
  2. Permanent Additions are the sum of those granted a permanent residency visa while in Australia, and those granted a visa through an Australian mission abroad, that have entered Australia during the respective reporting period.
  3. Visa grants are the sum of all permanent migration and temporary entry visa applications granted in Australia, through the Australian Government’s online visa portal, and visa grants made at an Australian mission abroad.
  4. Australian residents are Australian citizens residents in Australia and other permanent residents.
  5. General Skilled Migration (GSM) is the sum of total Skilled Family Sponsored, Skilled Independent and State/Territory Sponsored visas.
  6. Emigration is the number of persons who reported on their overseas departure card that they were leaving Australia permanently.


Further reading

This profile was prepared using information and statistics collated by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, and commentary extracted from the following publications:

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
See:Country, economy and regional information

Department of Immigration and Citizenship

International Monetary Fund
See:Country Information

Central Intelligence Agency
See:World Fact Book 2010

United Nations Development Program
See:Human Development Report 2010

World Bank
See:The Migration and Remittances Factbook 2011


Statistical tables – South Africa

Table 1: Economic and Human Development Indicators, 2010

Australia South Africa
Adult Literacy (%) 99.0 89.3
Fertility Rates (children per female) 1.9 2.4
GDP per capita PPP (current international $) 36 692 10 505
Life Expectancy at birth (years) 81.9 52.0
Mean years of schooling 12 8.2
Human Development Index 0.94 0.66
Median Age (years) 37.8 24.9
Population (millions) 22.3 50.5
Population growth, 2010 (%) 1.7 0.5

* All data (with the exception of adult literacy rates) were sourced from the UNDP Human Development Report 2010. Data on adult literacy was sourced from the CIA World Factbook, due to incomplete country information in the UNDP Report. Australia’s data was sourced from the ABS. Data on GDP per capita from International Monetary Fund, World Economics Outlook Database Oct 2010.
Table 2: Number of persons granted a permanent Australian visa (by nationality), 2006-07 to 2009-10

South Africa 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10
Skilled Migration
Business Skills 172 320 493 420
Distinguished Talent 2 14 23 14
Employer Sponsored 1 961 2 941 5 474 4 929
General Skilled Migration*
   Skilled Family Sponsored 469 656 711 165
   Skilled Independent 1 481 2 417 2 838 2 982
   State/Territory Sponsored 208 208 946 1 345
Total – Skilled visa grants 4 293 6 556 10 485 9 855
Skilled visas as a proportion of all permanent visas (%) 81 88 89 89
Family Migration
Child 122 108 108 82
Prospective Marriage (fiancé) 104 93 94 107
Partners 445 416 516 390
Parent 278 260 473 559
Preferential/Other Family 38 39 49 82
Total – Family visa grants 987 916 1 240 1 220
Family visas as a proportion of all permanent visas (%) 19 12 11 11
Special Eligibility 2 0 4 6
Total – Permanent Migrants 5 282 7 472 11 729 11 081

Sourced from internal data collected by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
Table 3: Number of persons granted a temporary Australian visa (by nationality), 2006-07 to 2009-10

South Africa 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10
International Students
  English Language Intensive Course for Overseas Students 0 0 1 1
  Schools 36 29 34 25
  Vocational and Education Sector (VET) 166 239 319 269
  Higher Education 137 182 233 229
  Postgraduate 18 10 24 25
  Non-Award 12 10 13 24
  AusAID or Defence 21 25 16 18
  Total number of international student visa grants 390 495 640 591
Business Long Stay (subclass 457) 6 680 9 350 9 740 2 780
  Tourist 30 225 35 360 34 221 31 124
Business Visitor 8 289 8 324 6 911 5 898
Sponsored Family Visitor 24 34 68 50
Total number of visitor visa grants 38 538 43 718 41 200 37 072

Sourced from internal data collected by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
Table 4: Main occupations among those granted a permanent (GSM) or temporary (subclass 457) visa, 2006-07 to 2009-10

South Africa Business Long Stay (subclass 457) General Skilled Migration
Temporary Entry (employer sponsored) Permanent Entry (unsponsored)
2009-10 Registered Nurse 120 Accountant 470
Computing Professional * 50 Computing Professional * 190
Specialist Managers * 50 Secondary School Teacher 80
Accountant 30 Mechanical Engineer 60
General Medical Practitioner 30 Registered Nurse 50
Dentist 30 Electronics Engineer 40
Sales and Marketing Manager 20 Chemical Engineer 30
Management Consultant 20 Electrical Engineer 30
Metal Fabricator 20 Fitter 20
Corporate General Manager 20 Quantity Surveyor 20
2008-09 Registered Nurse 200 Accountant 220
Business & Information Professional * 120 Computing Professional * 90
Fitter 110 Fitter 80
Computing Professional * 100 General Electrician 60
Motor Mechanic 90 Registered Nurse 50
Civil Engineer 90 Secondary School Teacher 40
General Electrician 80 Mechanical Engineer 30
Specialist Managers NEC 80 Business and Information Professionals NEC 30
Accountant 70 Motor Mechanic 30
Engineering Manager 70 General Manager 30

Sourced from internal data collected by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
* Within the broad professionals field, where no actual classification exists for the specific occupation.
Table 5: National Geographical Distribution, by country of birth and nationality



Proportion of all persons counted in the Census, 2006 33 25 20 8 10 2 1 2
Proportion of all South Africa born counted in the Census, 2006 32 19 22 4 21 1 0 1
Geographical Distribution, Permanent Additions 2009-10
Skill Stream 22 13 21 6 36 1 1 1
Family Stream 30 14 26 3 25 1 0 1
Geographical Distribution, Temporary Entrants 2009-10
International Students 23 14 27 5 27 0 0 3
Business Long Stay (subclass 457) visa 33 13 20 3 27 1 2 1
Most recent State or Territory of Residents, Emigration
All South Africa born 39 16 18 3 21 1 0 1

Information on migrants was sourced from internal data collected by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Information on the geographical distribution of the total population was sourced from the 2006 Census of Population and Housing.
Table 6: South Africa’s migration ranking relative to other countries

South Africa 2008-09 2009-10
South African born Population in Australia 8 8
General Skilled Migration 4 4
Employer sponsored 3 3
Total Skilled Stream 4 4
Total Family Stream 9 9
International Students 46 49
Business Long Stay (subclass 457) visa 5 7
Visitors 18 18

All information refers to the number of visas granted that year and was sourced from internal data collected by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, except for Population in Australia which is sourced from the ABS and refers to the stock of overseas born persons in Australia at the time.

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