For the first time since the 1950s, South Africans are taking full advantage of the Commonwealth's "working holiday" scheme, which allows people aged 17 to 27 to spend two years abroad and support themselves with part-time work. Most are heading for Britain, where up to 30,000 are expected this year, a 10-fold increase in five years. For those with at least one British grandparent, four-year "ancestry visas" are also available. And just as in the 1950s, nearly all the young South Africans heading abroad are white.
British High Commission officials admit they are concerned about the lack of take-up for the scheme among black South Africans. "Most if not all of the youngsters going to the UK seem to be from privileged homes, and some are clearly using the scheme as a launch-pad for careers in Europe," said one official.
The main reason is economic - visa holders must prove they have funds of 10,000 rands, around pounds 1,000, a sum beyond most in the black community.
While some simply want to travel before heading home to start families and careers, others are alarmed by high crime rates, the declining standard of living for white South Africans and policies designed to promote black employment. "People are finding it difficult to compete in the affirmative action job market," said Lara Smith, 29. "A lot of people feel coming here [to London] gives them a great opportunity to gain international experience which will give them a competitive skill when they go home."
But the British official in South Africa said many South Africans using the scheme planned to emigrate permanently. "It is clear that the intentions of some of those going over to the UK are not those we envisaged when we started the scheme," he said. "It was set up with the idea of helping young people, typically from Australia and New Zealand, who want to work in bars or restaurants to help fund their travel.
"The South Africans' intentions have become clear to me when young people have been refused entry after admitting to immigration officials that they have an eight-hour-a-day job lined up in a City bank. In cases like that, you end up getting daddy on the phone, and having to explain that young people are only allowed to work part-time."Reuse content