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Hurdles to trade? South Africa’s immigration policy and informal sector cross-border traders in the SADC

8. Immigration policies

Each country in SADC has its own immigration policy. However, no country in the region has a specific visa which allows cross-border traders to cross legally but with access to markets. However, within each country migration regulations may be applied unevenly and with special dispensations. Thus, certain countries have instituted formal and informal bi-lateral agreements which allow traders to move more freely across certain borders at certain times (and even on certain days). However, these are not uniformly applied and often only affect local cross-border traders and specific border posts.

South Africa has been undergoing immigration policy transformation since 1997. The Green Paper on International Migration made strong recommendations for the introduction of a traders permit which would allow for the activities of informal sector cross-border traders (RSA, 1997). The White Paper made similar recommendations—although less strongly (RSA, 1999). However, the final version of the Immigration Bill, currently under debate, makes no provision for permits for cross-border traders and it seems is likely to make it even harder for them to access visitors visas over a sustained period of time (unless exceptional provisions are invoked). Furthermore, there are no indications from the Department of Home Affairs that regulations will be introduced to account for the movements and activities of informal sector cross-border traders.

Thus, it seems that the policy environment remains unfavourable—or at least blind—to the activities of these entrepreneurs. Inclusion of informal sector trade in the vision of policy makers could help to facilitate their individual economic empowerment as well as a significant part of regional trade activities.

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