No ‘Sudden Brain Drain’, South African Expats Homecoming Trends Higher Than Expected

Contrary to popular belief, more South Africans are returning home than public perception. When SAPeople published a blog recently from an expat who was moving with her young family back to SA after several years in the UK, there was an outcry. How could she do such a thing? But it turns out – according to a recent Homecoming Revolution survey – that there are many expats who are doing just that… returning to SA for a myriad of reasons from missing family to wanting to help build a better South Africa for all.

Homecoming Revolution CEO Angel Jones

According to the recent “qualitative survey” of South Africans, East Africans and West Africans living abroad – 34 % want to return home and 22 % are still undecided.

Homecoming’s CEO Angel Jones said at an event in Johannesburg that these stats are “highly encouraging” and that “we have faith that President Ramaphosa will help South Africa become a fertile environment to attract skills home”.

Jones is herself the ultimate ex-expat… having returned home to South Africa, and encouraging others to follow, after hearing Nelson Mandela’s speech in Trafalgar Square – “I love you so much I want to put you in my pocket and take you home”.

Important Note to Set the Record Straight on ‘Brain Drain’ Figures

Recent ‘brain drain’ reports quoted Homecoming Revolution (HR) as stating that there are 2.7 million South Africans currently abroad. The figure was apparently derived from a comment made “out of turn” by Jones during an interview in March.

Jones has apologised for this “inappropriate and inaccurate statement” and Homecoming Revolution has officially retracted the statement, saying it does not have the official figures of the many South Africans abroad.

According to Homecoming, there is no indication of a ‘sudden’ brain drain… and a recent AfricaCheck article shows that expat statistics which have been recently quoted in the media are in fact from a migration paper in 2003.

The Homecoming Trends Report 2019 found that the majority left SA to pursue their careers.

Highlights from the Homecoming Trends Report 2019

QUANTITATIVE GROUP

  • Total Respondents 1956. (approx. 2 000)
  • 83% South Africans
  • 11% West Africans
  • 6% East Africans

HOST COUNTRIES

  • 38% United Kingdom
  • 17% USA and Canada
  • 16% Europe
  • 15% Australia and New Zealand
  • 16% of our sample have already returned from working abroad.

WILL YOU RETURN HOME?

  • 34% YES
  • 22% Undecided
  • 44% No

COMMENTS FROM THE SURVEY INCLUDED

  1. “WAKANDA FOREVER ⚔”
  2. “I am often asked if I regret having moved back to South Africa (esp. considering the rapid decline in the country since my return 7 years ago) and my answer is always ‘no’. As I’ve got older, being ‘home’ has grown in importance to me and I now know I’ll only leave SA again if really forced to.”
  3. “South Africans need to be more positive about their country, appreciate what they have and fight to keep it. I’m sick of being asked in disbelief why I left England. SA’s think everything is better abroad, they need a reality check!”

INSIGHTS

  • Homecoming says it’s found that White South Africans and EE South Africans have spent the same amount of time abroad and that there is no indication of a recent spike in EE South Africans moving abroad
  • A higher percentage of EE South Africans (46%) want to return than White South Africans (26%)

REASONS FOR LEAVING

  • Across all respondent groups, the Number 1 reason for moving abroad is for Career Opportunities.
  • For both White South Africans and EE South Africans the 2nd reason for moving abroad is Economic Stability.
  • The 3rd reason for White South Africans is Political Stability and the 3rd reason for EE South Africans is Improved Lifestyle.
  • From HR’s 2015 report the Number 2 Reason for moving abroad was Travel. This has now slipped out of the Top 3 reasons for leaving
  • For both East and West Africans, the 2nd reason for moving abroad is Education Opportunities. With the 3rd reason being Economic Stability.

IF YOU’VE RETURNED, HOW LONG WERE YOU ABROAD?

  • Majority of East Africans returned after 2 – 5 years.
  • Majority of West Africans returned after 5 – 10 years.
  • Majority of White South Africans returned after 5 – 10 years.
  • Majority of EE South Africans returned after 2 – 5 years.

AFRICAN PROFESSIONALS ABROAD

Of the main industry groups, the percentage split is as follows

  1. Financial services 21%
  2. IT and Tech 20%
  3. Healthcare 19%
  4. Advisory and Professional 18%
  5. Engineering 12%
  6. Consumer 10%

As one expat said: “Recruitment firms in Africa can play a major role in connecting experienced professionals with potential employers.”

REASONS FOR RETURNING HOME

  • Friends and Family 24%
  • Sense of Belonging 17% and Weather & Lifestyle 17%
  • Making a Difference 10%
  • Career 5%
  • Crime Improvement 5%
  • Entrepreneurial Opportunities 5%
  • Political Stability 3%

FOR AFRICANS ABROAD, THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTORS IN THE WORKPLACE ARE:

  • Autonomy 21%
  • Flexi-time 18%
  • Purpose 18%
  • Career Path 15%
  • Education 13%
  • Surprisingly, Gender & Diversity did not rate as an important factor in the workplace.
  • Surprisingly, the respondents found that these important factors above were provided better abroad than at home
  • Overall, respondents feel that a company’s help in their relocation back home is important.

One respondent said: “I would consider moving sooner if the right opportunity came up… However, things have to be put in place to attract those living abroad.”

Jones said: “These findings prove that South African employers need to improve Autonomy, Career Path, Purpose and Flexi-time if they want to attract skills home”

CAN WE ALLEVIATE THE BRAIN DRAIN?

  • Overall, 45% of respondents believe South Africa can alleviate the Brain Drain. 23% are undecided.
  • Although one would assume that the longer a person is a way, the more negative they are about Africa’s potential, the survey found there is no correlation whatsoever between negativity and years away.

General Comments from respondents:

“Working abroad is amazing, but Africa is my home. So many opportunities and so much potential.”

“From the elections of May 8, 2019, I believe that SA has the opportunity to be on a new trajectory in so many ways.  Me and my family are seriously considering coming back.”

OTHER COMMENTS

  • Africans abroad have a lot to contribute to Africa, and now is the time.
  • Access to medical and dental (in SA) is far superior. Lifestyle is excellent. Cost of living is better in SA… we have a great opportunity. But political leaders MUST put SA first and self-enrichment and divisiveness off the table. We must increase jobs and the tax base.
  • I have always had a desire to return and do something really useful with my life. I still believe SA can be that place.
  • South Africa is in my blood and heart.
  • South Africa is such a dynamic country and in a perfect world, South Africans, irrespective of race, creed or colour, should all come together to make it great…

Homecoming Revolution is the “Brain Gain” Headhunting Firm for Africa.