Cape tech start-up sector establishes immigration policy advocacy panel

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On 5 December, the tech start-up sector in the Western Cape came together to establish a panel of volunteers to raise the sector’s collective voice in the national policy dialogue regarding the immigration system. This took place at a Town Hall discussion organised by Silicon Cape, in partnership with LaunchLab and de Saude Attorneys, and hosted by Wesgro.

Representatives from the tech start-up sector ecosystem agreed that it was becoming increasingly critical for their voice to be heard at a national policy level, particularly with regard to challenges they face with the immigration framework. It was  therefore agreed to establish a panel of volunteers to advocate on behalf of the tech start-up sector and entrepreneurial ecosystem in lieu of amendments expected to the Immigration Act and critical skills list early next year.

In particular the  panel will advocate for a start-up visa, and for the inclusion in the Critical Skills List of skills that are scarce in South Africa but critical to building and strengthening local innovation and entrepreneurship. Brandon Paschal, Incubation Manager at LaunchLab, highlighted that in Europe many countries have a start-up visa, and that it plays an important role in the development of the sector.

It was also agreed  that the difficulty of obtaining visas for entrepreneurs and founders from across Africa to attend conferences and mentoring sessions in South Africa is a  major challenge to South Africa being the continent’s entrepreneurship and  innovation capital.

This tech sector Town Hall follows a broader stakeholder engagement in October hosted by Wesgro about the intersection between the immigration system and foreign investment in South  Africa. The immigration policy initiative launched in Cape Town yesterday is  also in alignment with the formation of a multi-sectoral task team under the  auspices of Business Leadership South Africa to take up challenges related to the immigration system.

Kerry Petrie, Interim  manager at Silicon Cape said: “Silicon Cape is stepping up into the space of  policy advocacy for the tech sector in response to calls from our members and  partners. Immigration will be the first issue being tackled that advocates on  behalf of the collective of entrepreneurs and start-ups and other ecosystem stakeholders in the tech start-up space.” She also stated that the current visa system was causing South Africa to miss out on huge opportunities for collaboration and learning across the continent.

“We are told that a draft immigration bill will be available at the end of March next year, and a new critical skills list will be implemented and commence on 1 April next year. All we are calling for is more engagement and more opportunity to comment. What we want to achieve through all of this is to get a regime that works for everyone,” added Immigration lawyer, Stefanie de Saude-Darbandi, who is also working with the BLSA forum.

MEC of Economic Opportunities, Beverly Schäfer, said: “The Western Cape has set a goal of becoming a global tech hub and in order to do so, we will require visa regime needs to be  reflective of a region that is open for business.”

Executive mayor, Dan Plato, commented: “We are very proud of the tech sector that has developed in Cape Town and the Western Cape however, there is still much to be done to  unlock this sectors full potential to become one of the top tech destinations in the world. We applaud the efforts of this  sector to come together to further drive development in local tech.”

Tim Harris, CEO of  Wesgro, concluded: “Cape Town and the Western Cape is fast becoming the start-up capital of Africa, and has a tech sector that employs more than double that of Lagos and Nairobi combined. It is very important that South Africa’s regulatory framework not only allows this thriving sector to achieve its potential, but also allows this ecosystem to support the development of entrepreneurship and  innovation across the African Continent.”

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