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South African Skilled Workers Return on Global Economic Weakness

South Africans working in skilled positions abroad have been returning to the country since 2008 as jobs in overseas countries dwindled, while local demand outstrips supply, according to a report by Adcorp Holdings Ltd.

A net 359,000 high-skilled South Africans, or about 18 percent of the total pool of managers and professionals, returned to the country in the last seven years, reversing a “brain drain that left South African companies with a critical shortage of scarce skills,” Loane Sharp, a labor economist at South Africa’s biggest employment agency, said by phone.

South Africa’s unemployment rate for high-skilled workers remained at about 0.4 percent over the past decade, compared to Adcorp’s estimate of 37 percent for the broader workforce.

“Since the financial crisis began in 2008, many of those that had left realized that their jobs in countries such as the U.K., U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Canada were not as secure as they hoped,” he said. South Africa is vulnerable to a reversal of this trend as global economies improve, Sharp said.

Even so, living standards in South Africa have “remained relatively high and people who have returned to take advantage of that are more likely to stay,” he said. South Africa has about 829,000 unfilled high-skilled vacancies, according to the report. High-skilled positions are defined as people earning more than 400,000 rand ($36,786) per year in 2013, Adcorp said.

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