The story of the strictures contained in our immigration policy and especially how such strictures are now undermining economic competitiveness is well told. Over the last six years or so, Botswana has significantly deviated from her established policy of openness and outward looking disposition.
Instead the country has become reclusive and introverted. A high number of expatriates are being deported without reason. An even higher number of expatriates applying for work and residence permits are being turned away under a system that is neither fair nor consistent. This same policy lacks transparency and uses vague and general reasons under the guise of security as a clutch to support itself. This has given impetus and validation to outsiders who believe the country is xenophobic and unwelcoming to international capital and skill. Coming at a time when the global economy is not doing well which itself impacts very negatively on diamond sales, this cannot be good for Botswana given the country’s reliance on the world to sustain its economy. Not only that. Another problem is the extent to which we are closing out the much needed skills which we need to put our economy back on track. The biggest victim of this policy has not been the expatriates who want to enter the country.
Rather it has been the economy of our country, but also the Botswana based companies who are not able to source locally many skills that are needed to compete in a global world that is increasingly competitive. If as a country we do not move swiftly to change our immigration policy then we may as well give up on attracting foreign direct investments. We may also just have to give up on hopes of diversifying our economy away from minerals. We cannot say we want to diversify the economy and yet continue practicing the same beliefs that undermine such efforts. It is important that if we go out to ask people to come and invest here, we also guarantee them the confidence that their investments here will be managed by the best skills available in the world.
Barring such skills from entering the country means that as a way of protecting their money, such investors would never land on our shores in the first place. This is tantamount to failing the assignment even before sitting down to undertake it. We readily concede that where expatriates are found to fail security clearance protocols, then they should not be allowed into the country. But when we have up to 70% of residence and work permit applications being rejected under what are the clumsiest excuses, then we should as a country be worried at the potential of our national to attract investors also getting derailed and ultimately failing. We also are of the view that investors should give priority to citizens when it comes to employment. But the truth of the matter, which can be attested to people who have run businesses in this country is that there is huge dearth of technical skills.
Where citizens are not readily available, it is also natural that expatriates be recruited and citizens availed to understudy them. But under the circumstances where applications are rejected out of hand, the end result is that the very businesses we want to attract here end up failing if they ever come, or not coming at all because there is no guarantee that they will be able to identify the requisite skills to manage them.