Stats SA releases SA’s first migration report

StatsSA said that most migrants entering South Africa originate from countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region.

StatsSA said that most migrants entering South Africa originate from countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region.

Published Mar 27, 2024


Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) on Tuesday released a first-of-its kind migration report for the country.

The ‘Migration profile report for South Africa: A country profile 2023’ tracked migration and emigration data. It revealed that the highest percentage of migrants coming to South Africa enter for work purposes, followed by students looking for better education and followed by refugee seekers.

Stats SA said that most migrants entering the border originated from countries in the Southern African Development Community region.

“Labour migration, the movement of individuals across the borders for employment purposes, is a fundamental aspect of the global economy and has profound social, economic, and political implications,” Stats SA said in a statement.

The report found that migration data is dominated by the black African population group with the migration landscape revolving around Gauteng as a central hub while Zimbabwe emerges as a significant source country.

In 2022, the distribution continued to evolve. Gauteng remained the province with the highest number of immigrants, contributing 50.2% of the total migrant population. The Western Cape also continued to see growth in both numbers and percentage, making up 15.6%.

In 2022 migrant-born individuals made up 8.9%, or 13 690 451 people of the total employed workforce, while South African-born persons constituted 91.1%, or 14 364 570 people, The total number of employed individuals in 2022 was 15 761 396.

“In 2018, there were a total of 26 992 learners; over subsequent years, the number of immigrant learners increased steadily for both sexes. Finally, in 2023 the number of immigrant learners further increased to 37 856 males and 38 949 females, with a total of 76 805 learners,” the report further said.

Workforce migrants

The findings on immigration for employment revealed that the proportion of employed immigrants within the overall workforce rose from 6.0% in Q3: 2012 to 8.9% in Q3:2022, while the majority of employed individuals were South African-born persons.

The highest proportion of immigrants were employed in private households at 18.4%, followed by the construction (17.2%) and wholesale and retail trade (13.6%) industries.

In 2012, the unemployment rate among immigrants was 15.6%. This rate increased slightly to 18.4% in 2017 and rose to 18.2% by 2022. The absorption rate stood at 65.3% in 2012 and decreased to 64.0% in 2022.

The labour force participation rate (LFPR), which measures the percentage of the working-age population actively participating in the labour force, was 77.5% among immigrants in 2012. The LFPR decreased slightly to 77.3% by 2017 and increased to 78.3% in 2022, indicating a fluctuation in labour force participation.

Internal Migration

Within the country, Gauteng and the Western Cape are the two main provinces that attracted a high number of in-migrants.

Stats SA said that the analysis on the period in migration between the 2011 and 2022 censuses reveals intriguing trends.

The Northern Cape is the province with the lowest share of period migrants (2.6%).

Eastern Cape on the other hand experienced an increase of 5.3% from Census 2011 and 10.3% in Census 2022.

Period out-migration indicates that Gauteng, Eastern Cape, Limpopo, and KwaZulu-Natal experience a high share of out-migration.

“Caution needs to be taken when interpreting the data on period migration from Census 2022 due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in less movement of people. Lastly, the results on the main reasons for moving from the previous place of residence in 2022 indicate that the main reason for migrating is to look for paid work, followed by moving to be closer to spouses,” Stats SA added.


For outgoing citizens of South Africa, UK, Australia, and the US were favoured destinations residing abroad, demonstrating significant increases in their populations.

Emigration for study purposes saw a steady rise in the number of South African students studying abroad.

“However, involuntary emigration, particularly the refugee population, exhibited significant changes over time, with fluctuating numbers indicating the sensitivity of such migration. The destinations for South African asylum seekers shifted across countries from 2021 to 2022, reflecting changes in asylum-seeking patterns,” StatsSA said.

Meanwhile, return migration of South Africans, the data showed a fluctuation.

The report revealed that In 2011, 45 866 citizens returned, with 46.2% being male and 53.8% female.

However, by 2022 the return numbers dropped to 27 983, showcasing an equal split of 50.0% male and female returnees.

Age-wise distribution revealed a varied landscape across different population groups in 2011, showcasing diverse representation across age brackets.

“This trend underwent noticeable changes by 2022, indicating shifts in demographic patterns. In 2011, white South Africans comprised 56.6% of returnees, contrasting with black Africans at 32%. By 2022 this had evolved, with whites accounting for 52.,9% and black Africans for 37.1% of the returnee demographic. Sex and age dynamics further revealed that in both 2011 and 2022, a higher percentage of male returnees existed across age brackets. Provincial distribution displayed a similar trend, with Gauteng and the Western Cape being prominent in 2011. By 2022, shifts in returnee percentages across provinces hinted at changing preferences or circumstances influencing voluntary return decisions,” StatsSA said.