Published On: Wed, Jun 28th, 2017

Immigration issues costing Botswana investment inflows

Immigration issues

from KATLEGO SIBANDA in Gaborone, Botswana
GABORONE, (CAJ News) – STRICT immigration laws are forcing international companies to halt or downsize operations in Botswana while expatriate employees are shunning the country that is gradually losing its standing as an investment and employment destination of choice.
Potential investors, long-time foreign business owners and foreign workers have raised red flag on the Southern African country’s issuance of residence and work as stringent.
Former Bank of Botswana Deputy Governor, Keith Jefferies, has bemoaned the situation and called for quick interventions to what he denounced as bureaucracy affecting both employment and attraction of foreign direct investment (FDI).
Jefferies, a seasoned economist, said the so-called points-based system (PBS) for work and investment permits introduced several years ago had downgraded the country’s positive business climate.
“This has not helped,” said Jefferies.
The system works by awarding points for the attributes considered desirable in immigrants who want to live and invest or work in a country.
For refresh applications, an applicant had to score 75 percent in order to be awarded a work and residence permit.
I was envisaged PBS would have a liberal, open, transparent and objective basis for making decisions on work and investor permits. However, it has achieved the opposite.
“Instead, the system is illiberal, totally non-transparent and subjective,and has been used to make it far more difficult for investors to come to Botswana and for companies to recruit foreigners when they have a scarcity of skills,” said Jefferies.
He said the system was backfiring with potential investors deterred and those already in the country and operating businesses for decades leaving or contemplating such decisions.
This has led to job losses.
“No reasons are given for refusals or withdrawals of permits. Arbitrary additional requirements are introduced on a whim. It has become extremely difficult for even long-term residents to obtain permanent residence or citizenship, and there are no published criteria on what is needed to qualify,” lamented Jefferies.
Bank of Botswana Governor, Moses Pelaelo, said Botswana must to operate in an open economy environment.
“It should be accepted that foreign workers complement locals in various ways, including as part of the needed foreign direct investment and skills transfer,” said Pelaelo.
United Kingdom real estate group, Knight Frank, has also complained about high the number of expatriates who are failing to secure work permits.
Knight Frank stated the country’s residential property market had been affected by rejection of renewals, with the high-end market the worst affected.
“Many residential buy-to-let investors are struggling to find tenants,particularly as expatriate workers have found it difficult to renew work permits,” the company stated in its Africa Report 2017 report.
Sales at the high end of the market were far less frequent and likely to stay muted for some time, Knight Frank bemoaned.
According to the 2016 IPD Property index, the residential sector was the
lowest performing segment of the market in the year with a total return of 6,4 percent against retail (22,5 percent%) and office at 8,1 percent.
However, government believes new changes to the contentious immigration laws will be ushered in by the amended Immigration Act passed last year.
Foreign affairs minister, Edwin Batshu, believes the new law will attract more expatriates that are capable of significantly contributing to the economy.
According the new Act, the Minister has powers to grant the status of permanent residence to non-citizens that are investors and have resided in Botswana lawfully for a period of less than five years.
This is in order to promote job creation and encourage FDI.
“Going forward, senior investors with significant contribution to economy can apply for permanent residence within five years, even with few days into the country, and they will be assessed and can be granted instantly if they qualify for such,” Batshu said.
He said the five-year threshold previously imposed, made investors uncomfortable when doing business in the country.
In addition, Batshu said amendments to work and residence permits had been done to attract the much needed skills.
Lekwalo Leta Mosienyane, President for the Business Botswana, the apex business body, is hopeful the changes would accommodate foreign investors.
“It’s a welcome development particularly because not only does it address investors in our economy but also goes an extra mile in including their spouses and children,” Mosienyane stated.
Mosienyane recommended government should in addition to the amendments recognize the individuals who have been in the country for more than 20 years after birth by investors.
“We are losing children who have got a sense of connection to Botswana in terms of culture, sports and others. And they don’t know any other country other than Botswana,” said Mosienyane.
“I believe we should also start to address their interests. We should either give them citizenship or permanent residence.”
The records from the country’s data authority Statistics Botswana indicate that most work permit holders are from Zimbabwe, South Africa, China.
Most of these are employed in agriculture, mining and quarrying manufacturing, electricity and water, construction, wholesale and retail trade, hospitality, transport and communications, finance, real estate, education, health, private households and foreign missions.
CAJ News

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