The renewed appeal by Bill Gates for immigration laws to be liberalised and for maths, science and engineering education to be beefed up in the United States (IT-Online, Wednesday) is a significant admission by a prominent US citizen that this major world superpower may be running into problems that South Africa has experienced for decades – a shortage of skills.
Gates’s appeal to Congress to “welcome great minds into the country instead of turning them away” and to overhaul education in order to help the US stay competitive in the global market echoes the situation in South Africa.
While our lawmakers may sometimes be a little more flexible in allowing skilled people to enter South Africa, we are faced with the far more serious problem of how to persuade our skilled workers not to leave the country. On top of that we are still grappling with the legacy of apartheid and how to address the basics of education and literacy, let alone how to beef up and make maths and science more exciting for young learners.
If Gates is successful in convincing lawmakers in the US that any shortage of skills can be overcome by attracting international talent through increased visa allocations, he would have played a major role in the creation of a new market for one of South Africa’s most successful exports.
Given the level of crime in South Africa and the aggravation of issues such as “load-shedding”, any relaxation of US immigration laws could eventually lead to the US scoring a unique “double” – victories in both the rugby and cricket world cups.
– David Bryant