Ex-pats homeward bound!
THE global economic meltdown and resulting widespread job cuts could result in South Africa‘s crippling brain drain soon becoming a brain gain as South Africans living abroad are forced to return home.

And it is has been predicted that within the next few months the “floodgates” will open as expats seek the security of home.

While South Africa has had its fair share of economic woes, it has not been as hard hit as some leading nations like Britain and the US, where South Africans working or trying to find employment are becoming increasingly concerned about future job prospects.

South Africans are among many hundreds of thousands worldwide who have already lost their jobs due to the widespread credit crunch, and for some home now means security.

Homecoming Revolution, a non-profit organisation that assists South Africans wanting to return home, said it had been inundated with queries from expats living abroad and wanting to return.

The organisation‘s managing director, Martine Schaffer, said she had also seen a steady decrease in South Africans leaving the country for so- called greener pastures.

Although she could not supply statistics, Schaffer said she believed that within the next three months or so, the “floodgates would open” in terms of South Africans wanting to return – if they could afford to move back, as travelling costs in some countries had “gone through the roof”.

In addition, the UK is drawing up plans to ban advertising jobs overseas, to ensure that vacancies go to British citizens. According to The Times News Service in London, the latest UK figures show that the number of unemployed people has risen to two million for the first time since the mid-1990s.

The picture was bleak for South Africans looking to work overseas as it had become “close to impossible” for them to enter Britain and the US, Schaffer said. The popular two-year working holiday visas have also been scrapped.

But while the picture was not a very positive one, the credit crunch could be a blessing in disguise as returning South Africans would bring with them much-needed knowledge, skills and experience which could be ploughed back into the country to address South Africa‘s “brain drain”, she said. There were many opportunities in South Africa with its emerging market.

Several people originally from the Eastern Cape and now living overseas told Weekend Post of their experiences and those of friends and family who had decided to return home.

Judith Tietyen, who spends nine months of the year in Port Elizabeth and the rest with her family in Chicago, said the US lost 2,7 million jobs last year.

“I know no one who is unaffected. Friends and family have lost jobs, businesses and homes, and investment income by 40 per cent or more.”

People living on fixed incomes were feeling the impact of rising food, petrol and healthcare costs and many were “having to choose food over healthcare and prescription drugs”.

Steve Katz, a former Bay resident who has lived in the US for the past 30 years, said it was the toughest economic time he had ever experienced.

“Never have I seen a topic discussed so much, at so many events, so often. It has hit every economic group, every family it seems, with no signs of letting up.”

The sectors most affected were retail like clothing and electronics, the motor industry and real estate, he said.

He predicted that the number of South Africans flocking to the US for jobs would decrease because it was difficult to obtain a work permit and because there were fewer positions available, which would reduce the opportunities for foreigners.

In Britain, things are not looking any brighter. A former Eastern Cape resident now living in London, who wanted to remain anonymous, said food was more expensive than ever and travel costs had risen dramatically.

“I‘m in the construction industry and the future does have a large feeling of uncertainty with respect to future projects.”

He said he knew several South Africans who were considering coming home because of the UK‘s economic climate, and felt the number of South Africans going to Britain to seek jobs there would decrease.

Lara Cragg, a former Bay resident who has been living in the UK for the past year, said it took much longer to find a job in Britain nowadays. “The cost of living is high, particularly in London, so one would need to find a job as soon as possible.”

Former Eastern Cape journalist Piet van Niekerk said he knew of about six South Africans who were leaving the UK for greener pastures. “They are moving to Singapore because the salaries are better and there is more job security. Others are moving to Dubai.”

However, there are signs that jobs in Dubai are also drying up.

According to Arabian Business.com, South African construction and engineering firm Group Five announced on Wednesday that its operations in the Middle East had taken a knock. The credit crisis and other problems led to Dubai authorities cancelling a R3,3-billion contract and suspending a R654-million contract.

Michelle de Klerk, a former Weekend Post reporter who is now an associate editor for a commodities newswire and newsletter in the UK, said several of her friends had been hard hit, particularly those employed in the banking world.

“Many of the sources I speak to through work have given up hope of bonuses or salary increases because right now, to have a job is a bonus.”

In Ireland, the situation is not much better. Charl Oberholster, who exchanged the Eastern Cape for Ireland eight years ago, said the economy there had shifted drastically in the past year. “Living costs are among the highest in Europe.

“Unemployment and people claiming social welfare payments are at an all-time high and December saw a 23% increase in unemployment year-on-year – the biggest jump yet.”

He added that the global banking crisis had affected four of the five biggest Irish banks and building societies. “But, personally, I think South Africans will hang onto their jobs in Ireland and the UK if they can at the moment – unless they can find confirmed work back home.”

Article by: Yolandé Hayward - www.weekendpost.co.za