Policy on Quotas for Foreign Workers in South Africa “opens for discrimination”: Priest

Fr. Peter John Pearson. Credit: Sheila Pires

A Catholic Priest in South Africa serving as the Director of the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office (CPLO), an office of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), has said that the proposed policy on quotas for foreign workers in South Africa opens up room for discrimination.

On February 28, the Minister of Employment and Labor in South Africa, Thulas Nxesi, released the National Labor Migration Policy (NLMP) for public comment. The proposed policy that will be out for public comment for a period of 90 days aims, among other aspects, to limit the extent to which entities can employ the number of foreign nationals in possession of a valid work visa.

The proposed policy, which establishes quotas for foreign workers, also codifies the obligations of an employer engaging non-South African employees, be it in local corporates, foreign-owned small, medium, and micro-enterprises (SMMEs), or foreign platform service providers such as e-hailing drivers.

In an interview with ACI Africa, CPLO Director, Fr. Peter John Pearson, disapproves of the suggested quotas and describes them as a “reinvention of the old racial classification.”

“We would say that the way to go is not quotas, which looks to our mind as a kind of almost reinvention of the old racial classification”, Fr. Pearson said, adding that the move “just opens for discrimination; it kills the kind of entrepreneurial ship.”


According to the proposed policy, an employer in South African can only engage a foreign national as an employee if the latter “has the right to be so employed in terms of a visa issued under the Immigration Act”.

The perception that foreign nationals are taking jobs meant for South Africans needs to be contested, the Catholic Priest told ACI Africa Monday, March 7, and explained, “If the foreign population is only 7% and the unemployment rate is 35%, then clearly foreigners are not to blame per say.”

Releasing the NLMP on February 28, the Minister of Employment and Labor in South Africa said the initiative was part of the government’s action to curb the practice of employers exploiting desperate foreign nationals and distorting the labor market in the Southern African country.

In the Monday, March 7 interview, Fr. Pearson acknowledged with appreciation the justification the South African Minister provided saying, “One of the strong reasons for the proposed policy is to curb exploitation of undocumented (and) desperate foreign nationals.”

Making reference to other unjustifiable aspects of the policy, the Director of CPLO said, “We will counter some of those arguments within the broader kind of framework of Pope Francis’s four verbs of welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating migrants and refugees, and asylum seekers.”

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Fr. Pearson further said that the entity of the SACBC, which he heads “believes that the way forward is to provide a law skills visa, especially for the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region.”

“We would call for regularized passages of entry into the country,” the Catholic Priest said in reference to citizens from nations under SADC, the inter-governmental organization established to further regional socio-economic cooperation and integration as well as political and security cooperation among 16 countries in southern Africa.

He went on to condemn the recent wave of attacks carried out by vigilantes under the banner "Operation Dudula" movement.

“We have absolute condemnation for the kinds of rhetoric response, for the dangerous actions that they are carrying out, and the way that it will generate and normalize an environment for xenophobia,” Fr Pearson said in reference to the vigilantes under “Operation Dudula” movement.

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.