Government is being forced to take emergency action to stop the ongoing mass exodus of foreign investors and save thousands of jobs following a flawed attempt to tighten the country’s immigration system, which has “sent the wrong message that Botswana is unwelcoming and closed for business”.
It emerged this week that that the point based system, introduced by the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs earlier this year to manage the country’s immigration, makes it more difficult to qualify for a work and residence permit in Botswana than anywhere in the world and “has caused major problems”.
Under the new system, the more skills a foreigner has and the more those skills are in demand, then the more points they will score and the more likely they will be allowed to work or do business in Botswana.
While the highest pass mark for countries that use the Point Based System is in the United Kingdom, which is pegged at 63 percent, the Botswana pass mark is even higher at 75 percent, making it more difficult for skilled workers and investors to stay in Botswana than in the UK although the UK has by far more skilled manpower compared to Botswana.
As a result, a record number of investors and skilled workers suddenly find themselves unqualified to work and do business in Botswana and the Ministry would not renew their permits.
Dr Keith Jefferis of Econsult, who was commissioned to come up with the point based system, revealed this week how the introduction of the system by government was flawed, poorly planned and rushed.
Addressing the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) point based system consultative workshop on Thursday, Dr Jefferis said it was introduced in a “hurry” and “with the wrong mindset”.
“There was insufficient time to refine the details, there was no real piloting or parallel run, so practical impact of the new scheme had not been evaluated, application forms/ information requirements not amended as necessary and it was introduced with the wrong mindset, seen as a way to block “some kinds of” immigrants and reduce immigration.”
Dr Jefferis said, as a result, the new system “has caused major problems.” He revealed how the flawed implementation of the new system is making it “very difficult” for new investors and employees to qualify for work permits. Worse still, “existing investors are being turfed out, businesses have closed and jobs lost”. He said this has caused “uncertainty in the minds of foreign employees and investors and has sent the wrong message that Botswana is unwelcoming and closed for business.”
Jefferis added that the point-based system introduced in Botswana to address perceived shortcomings of existing system is being perceived as “arbitrary, subjective, inefficient and lacking transparency”.
Indications are that the Botswana government is worried that the new system is sending the wrong message to investors. In an advert flighted on local newspapers, the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre states, “as the business community is well aware, recently the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs commenced a new Immigration Act, in which a Point Based System was introduced to evaluate applications for work and residence permits. Since the piloting of the PBS, it is evident that the design and implementation thereof has not delivered the intended outcome.”
During the PBS workshop, Dr Jefferis proposed that “reducing the pass mark would have an immediate dramatic impact and make the system more workable”. He said there was also need for further refinement “in terms of scarce skills, qualifications equivalence” and that the system “needs to be completely transparent ÔÇô all aspects publicly available (including scarce skills list)”.
He said the system needs “to be implemented with the right mindset ÔÇô encouraging immigration that will help the country, and that application forms need to be designed appropriately”.