Court judgment is good news for existing, new SA emigrants to UK

LONDON — UK is a prime destination for skilled South Africans wanting to relocate. But many battle to get in. Emigration specialist JP Breytenbach shares some good news. – Alec Hogg

Relocation to a new country is challenging. The decision itself is not easy. Even the most rational of beings find it difficult to overcome emotional aspects like the familiarity of people and places, the in-built understanding of how things work, and aversion for change that’s embedded in all of mankind.

Economists have a term for this reluctance – they call it Home Bias.

But sometimes circumstances prove too much for even those most deeply infected with such Home Bias. The fortunate get pulled by an irresistible need to expand their horizons, to pursue new opportunities. Others get pushed by things beyond their control.

After decades of geographic and political isolation, economic and political change in South Africa has created uncertainty. That has sparked new lines of inquiry among formerly settled citizens, particularly those with internationally transportable skills. As much of South Africa’s national culture was shaped from centuries as a British colony, it’s little surprise the UK has, for many, been a magnet.

Official records show almost a million South African-born people now live in the UK. This mass migration has established a thriving community into which new arrivals can and do quickly integrate. Technology benefits like Skype, WhatsApp, Waze, Citymapper and a host of others have removed the information barrier.

As a result, Saffers, as they call themselves, tend to integrate quickly and usually successfully into the UK. But many who do have British ancestry a couple generations back, struggle with the concept of having to commit to a minimum stay of five years to earn citizenship.

But as we hear from specialist emigration lawyer JP Breytenbach, there’s some good news on that front.

There has been an interesting change actually, that happened in February of this year, called The Case of Remain and Others, where basically the British Government, not by their choice but rather by a Supreme Court judgement – might now have to give citizenship to second generation individuals born abroad. Whereas, this wasn’t really something that they did before this judgement. That’s going to be an interesting impact on people.

How significant is it?

Oh, it’s massively so, potentially a massive caveat because it wasn’t passed by Parliament so, it was a decision made by a judge, it’s obviously open to challenge, and because it’s so new it’s a little bit difficult to advise clients fully because one doesn’t quite know how the Home Office will interpret things. But effectively, what it means is that individuals who would have traditionally possibly only have been able to apply for an Ancestral Visa because they have a British born grandmother or a British born grandfather – they may now possibly apply straight away to be registered as British citizens and not have to go through that 5 year indefinitely you have to remain with the naturalisation cycle thereafter.

Do you think it’s going to make much of an impact on the immigration flow from SA?

I think so, Alec, for a number of reasons. A lot of people or a lot of our clients in any event, don’t necessarily want to immigrate to the UK and spend the majority of their time there. But they do want to have an option to go if they want to. With an Ancestral Visa, for example, the idea really is for you to get the visa and go and live in the UK for the majority of your time. So, people are hesitant to do that, if that isn’t really what they want to do. Whereas, of course, if they can register themselves as British then they’ll go ahead and do so now because then they can go and live in Britain whenever they want to.

JP Breytenbach, emigration, UK,
JP Breytenbach

So, if one of your grandparents were born in Britain or had British Citizenship, because I guess, there is a difference there, given the old colonial story.

Yes, and therein lies the caveat. It’s always easy when one reads a judgement at first and to say, ‘Right, this is simple and straightforward.’ But when one then gets into the details sometimes it gets a bit more complicated. So, to give you an idea, one has to have been born before 1983, to potentially take advantage of this and it relates only back to one’s mother. So, where this comes from, and I’m not going to give too much detail in fear of boring your listeners, but just in short – it’s to correct historic gender discrimination, where women couldn’t pass on their citizenship to their children simply by virtue of being a female, whereas men could have. So, this is really part of the government’s… Or in this case, the judiciary’s view to correct this historic gender discrimination one had in Britain. So, it’s related to your mother and then generally, your grandfather because your grandmother might not have been able to pass-on her citizenship to your mother because she was female. So, when one gets down the rabbit hole, one can keep going for a while, but in short, it’s grandfather, mother, and then yourself before 1983, and then one would have an option, potentially.

So, if you’re born before 1983, and you want to immigrate or at least have the option of getting British Citizenship – there’s a whole, new avenue that one can now explore.

Absolutely, and I think that’s going to change a lot of things. Just on that point, in the year ending up to March 2018, it might interest some of your listeners, in terms of British Citizenship granted to foreign born nationals. SA had about 3,100 individuals getting British Citizenship. Now these statistics relate more to naturalisation but it gives one a good idea, where India, which is the first country on the list, with the most Indian born nationals granted British Citizenship is a whopping 16,500. So, I think this figure in a year from now might be a little bit different if they take into account South Africans being able to register as well. We’re going to see a change that number.

JP, what about the whole Brexit story? We see it ebbing and flowing almost, on a daily basis. Has that made much difference to the way people are perceiving becoming British or perhaps, relating to the UK?

So, Alec, it would almost have been funny if it wasn’t so serious, all this Brexit toing and froing, especially from an immigration point of view because it seems that the government keeps changing their mind almost on a daily basis. I think inherent to the insecurity that any new legislative framework will bring, is this idea of if you’re a British citizen you won’t fall under this. You’ll still fall under the British system and British immigration rules, which of course are now completely different to the so-called EEA Regulations, which governs everything to do with European citizens and their dependents. So, our advice is if one can get British citizenship, in every which way legally, then get it and get it done and know that Brexit won’t affect you. Of course, for our European clients – it’s a whole different body of advice, depending on their own circumstances.

We have spoken a little bit about the way that things have changed. But from the Ancestral Visa perspective, there are other ways of getting citizenship or being able to legally relocate to the UK, particularly for South Africans. I’ve spoken to quite a few people here as well, who have got Entrepreneurial Visas, for instance.

That’s right. The Entrepreneurial Visa, as an example, is a very popular visa for SA businesspeople. In short, what it relates to, is an individual or an entrepreneurial team who wants to invest into a UK business or start-up a UK business, and have access to £200,000, and then they can go into the UK and open up a business and employ UK citizens and, in due course, you can get ‘settled status’ and become British citizens. Worldwide, about half the applications get approved just because it’s quite technical but it’s one of those things that once you have the plan and if you execute the plan properly, they tend to work very well, and our SA clients tend to do very well. I think it’s so similar in the UK, in many ways, to do business. The interconnectedness of the business world in SA and the UK seems to assist greatly in this, and they all do very well.

I was reading in the FT this morning, there’s a story there on page 2 about how those people who are wanting to marry British citizens or marry European citizens are now finding it’s not so easy any more. So, it’s almost like that was a route that some people had tried, find yourself a British person, marry them, and hopefully they’ll open the doors for you. But they seem to be onto that.

Then of course, one has the tricky proposition of staying happily married for the whole period, right. So, you’re quite right. There was a time when it was really open to abuse, where people paid other people to pretend to be the husband and wife, and thereby get a visa and subsequently settle in the UK. The government is really aware of this and they really made a focus on people applying as spouses and/or unmarried partners, for those who aren’t married but that they live together in a relationship, looking to one of marriage for 24 months. I think the focus really has moved to the British Government wanting to make sure that genuine immigrants immigrate, but at the same time, wanting genuine immigrants.

The whole reducing of net-migration – that was such a big thing for Theresa May and her Government. That has been mentioned less and less. It certainly seems to ask that the British Government are quite keen now actually, on genuine migrants who genuinely want to go to the UK and make a contribution. I think a lot of that is because they realise that post-Brexit – they are going to need immigrants. They’ve always needed immigrants and they will continue to need immigrants, and they won’t have European immigrants just flooding the UK and providing cheap and skilled, (at the same time) labour.

It’s interesting parallels with the post-Second World War, and the Caribbean immigrants, who came to the UK at that point in time, but why is Britain such a popular destination for South Africans?

I think it’s a combination of the historic times and of course, English being the language spoken. Most South Africans have a good working knowledge of English, and can speak good English. It’s very similar in the way business is done. You understand, I think, a lot faster on how to do your taxes, for example, because it’s very similar to how your taxes would have been done in SA. For our business clients, it’s just the ease of doing business. They can fly in the morning and go straight to work. There’s no particular jetlag. They can call their other offices or whatever the case might be, without having to wait many hours before the office has opened. There are quite a few ways to do business in the UK as well, which I think is good. For example, the Representative Visa, where a SA business can send a senior member of staff to the UK to open up a branch or go to a subsidiary of the SA business without massive initial capital outlay. Or without having to invest a specific amount of money. For that individual then, to build a SA business in the UK. It’s easy for them to do so, because there’s no real reason not to, frankly.

In talking to a few people who pass through here and I get the opportunity to engage with people from all walks of life in SA. The sense that I got from an asset manager, who I saw last week, was that he said there’s never been, or he has never seen as many people in SA wanting to immigrate. Now, that’s just a survey of one, and it is perhaps an anecdotal insight from his perspective. But are you seeing that? Are you seeing any change since Ramaphoria became Ramareality?

Yes, there’s certainly been an uptick in the amount of people that contact us, who want to immigrate. It’s unfortunate that a lot of people who really want to immigrate, don’t necessarily have the option to go, even though there are more options, almost on a quarterly basis, fields being opened up by the British Government, and I’ll explain a little bit more about that in a second. But definitely, Alec, we’ve seen an uptick in the high-net worth clients especially, wanting to immigrate. Not just move their assets but physically want to move them and their families as well and also, business people who want to expand their businesses into Europe and seeing the UK as a natural and an easy foothold to get there, and to purchase into businesses and maybe while we invest into a UK business, that they can rather invest further into another SA business it seems like so, we’ve certainly seen that too.

Why do you think that is?

Well, I suppose that there are numerous reasons, and I’ll leave it up to the political commentators to commentate on politics. But I think the feeling that a lot of my clients have at the moment, is almost a let-down. That when Ramaphosa came in as president and everybody thought things would get better much quicker. It was almost the magic bullet to make everything great again, and it hasn’t happened. So, I think there’s a bit of a knee jerk reaction there that there’s been a let-down so, now people want to go. Of course, the expropriation without compensation narrative – that doesn’t help. A lot of my clients are really concerned about where the rand is going. So, it’s a case of, ‘Let’s get out of SA and invest in the UK whilst we can,’ do that so, R20 to the Pound before it’s R40 to the Pound, and so forth.

Then of course, a lot of the doctors that we deal with and medical personnel are worried about the potential NHS-like scheme that the government wants to bring in, in due course. So, it’s almost as if everywhere, a lot of my professional clients look. There are challenges that they don’t necessarily want to face, in the SA context. Then, of course, the UK welcoming, the doctors with open arms. They want SA doctors.

Everybody wants the highly skilled professionals anywhere in the world. But for those, you did mention, that there are other clients of yours, who can’t get into the UK. So, where are they’re looking if they are considering immigration?

Well, given that we only deal with the UK. I know a lot of my clients would have gone to Australia or Canada, our specialists, and see if there’s a way in there. The clients who tend to come to us really want to get to the UK. So, if it’s a case of them not being able to go then we try and formulate a plan, where they can, maybe in a 12- or 18-month horizon, realise their dream of wanting to go to the UK, in which ever fashion. Albeit to maybe go and study further in the UK, and in such a way, then get a Student Visa, and subsequent to that stay in the UK in a different category, or look for work, and get the CV polished up correctly. With enough planning, time, and effort generally speaking, one can make a plan for the UK. Sometime it just takes a lot of time to wait for legislation to change, but now is as good a time as any. The British Government has brought in quite a few changes. For example, with the students they’ve brought in changes for the Student Visa, where if you go and study a master’s level program, for example. You get extra time to spend in the UK thereafter, to stay and find work. It’s also much easier for a UK employer to employ you, once you’ve done a masters in the UK. There were talks earlier last week about potentially, this scheme being extended to all students studying in the UK, on a tertiary level and not just master’s students. So, the British Government is certainly looking at trying to get skilled talent into the UK and keeping them there. With enough planning, a lot of our clients can take benefit off that.

And other routes – are there any other new areas that have opened up for potential immigrant?

There has been a couple of interesting ones, if I can just explain some of them. The student one I’ve just mentioned is very popular these days. Especially for a chap studying finance and business administration, that kind of role, where they will enter into a graduate-type employment program thereafter and stay in the UK quite easily. This wasn’t possible 6-months ago. They’ve also changed it, the British Government, has changed the requirements now, where if you go and study at one of these pilot-scheme universities you don’t have to show the same funds that you had to do before. They really are trying to make it a little bit easier. They’ve also brought in a new category for science researchers, really, where if you’re an academic you can go on the so-called ‘tier-5’ government exchange scheme route to go and do research in the UK, without having to get a permit or without having to pay for study fees. That will be something that’s quite attractive as well, and I think that’s another indication where the British Government really wants to get that specific type of individual to work, and to live in the UK.

It almost sounds as though they are shaping their approach, the British Government that is, to try and get those members of society, who contribute to the tax-base, who actually contribute to society. In other words, higher skills that might have been developed somewhere else that they would welcome here because, as you mentioned earlier, they really do need immigration into the UK.

That’s right. For us, it’s very interesting. I’ve seen immigration law and policy change. We’ve obviously been doing this for some time and it’s been very interesting to see how the British Government spoke about immigration law and policy, before Brexit, before the Referendum. And how the tune has changed, but in a very subtle way. When you look at the practice of the thing and how the British Government is bringing in, without announcing it with too much fanfare. But bringing in things like the pilot scheme for the students, and bringing in the research route, and lifting the cap, for example, on foreign doctors and nurses, which has had a massive impact on the tier to work permit route. All these little things they do, whilst they don’t announce it with a lot of fanfare, do actually mean that the borders for non-EU migrants have opened up considerably.

We see that trend continuing, for example, they’ve recently announced that on the tier-one exceptional talent – where effectively, especially if you’re in the technological field. If you’re a high-tech whiz, who’ve had your own business, especially Fintech, or that kind of thing. There’s a visa you can apply for to go and live in the UK as a highly talented individual. They’ve just doubled the amount of places that they allowed previously, and that’s massive. That’s twice the amount of people, who can go and do this tier-four. They didn’t make a lot of noise about it but they’ve changed it. With the tier-one entrepreneur – the numbers are increasing every year. There was 918 in 2015, who went and in 2017 there was 974 individuals who went as tier-one entrepreneurs. With the tier-one investor where you invest £2m into the UK as a minimum investment. There was more than a thousand people that went in 2017 and 2015. So, it’s not as if immigration law and policy has tightened at all.

So, if you are one of those people who is highly skilled and you want to go and look elsewhere in the world, and particularly in this case into the UK as an alternative. If you look around, as you say, go into that rabbit hole deeply enough, you’re almost certain to come out with something that will suite you.

Yes, that really is the case. Especially, if you’re someone with funds behind you, to invest in the UK, such as a tier-one entrepreneur, where you need £200,000 or you and a team member needs £200,000. A lot of our clients get lined up with very good businesses. We can assist with introductions and all that kind of thing. It’s almost this ecosystem of South Africans in the UK, who assist South Africans, from SA to go and invest. So, it’s a familiar thing or face for people to go and do business in the UK. You’re quite right, for those who don’t have particular funds behind them, and they’ve got to work for companies who want to expand, there are options there. For those who are highly talented, there are options and we feel that there will be more and more coming up. The government also announced about 3 weeks ago that they have a new entrepreneur route that they will announce further details on – the new entrepreneur route coming in April 2019, which will reduce the requirements for some. So, you might not need to have £200,000. They certainly are looking to offer more opportunities for skilled and younger folk here.

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