Virginia, US
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| Itang Amissine

Home Away From Home: The Life of an Immigrant in South Africa

The story of immigration cannot be “over told” as there is an influx of people moving to various countries for different reasons on a daily basis. Not only is the journey to a new location full of uncertainties with an ever present feeling of mixed emotions, the assimilation process is seldom hitch-free. My story is no different from anyone else’s.
Being born and bred in Nigeria, the journey for survival was critical. With over 180 million people, there is a constant competition to outshine each other. One’s chance at a better life is based on the ability to hustle hard. This quest for success saw me move from my small home town in the southern part of Nigeria to a new country. Jet lagged, I found myself at OR Tambo International Airport, South Africa, to pursue graduate studies at the University of Pretoria.
My earliest memories of South Africa are of new found friends asking me about Nigeria. Nigerian movies, Nigerian food, and Nigerian men were always top of the list. I was constantly quizzed about my accent, and that eventually led me to adopt a different accent to suit my South African audience. I was often mistaken for a South African until I spoke. I would often be approached by people speaking in the local language and I would always respond in English given my inability to speak any of the local languages. In about a year, South Africa became home to me. I took a conscious decision to integrate further by getting a job, assimilating into the South African lifestyle and beginning the permanent residency process.
Life as an immigrant is never easy. On the surface, I have created a comfortable life but in reality, the immigration limbo—including the endless wait to obtain permanent residence status—is still a sore point. In a country with ever-changing immigration legislation and frequent xenophobic attacks, being an immigrant is a tough choice. One moment you are fully compliant based on the permit you have obtained, the next moment there is a sudden change or impending change to the legislation that will affect your future. Your future is tied to the type of permit issued, which may be restrictive in nature or which may allow you unlimited rights. There is also a constant uncertainty tied to being an immigrant. What if you lose your job and cannot get another? Will your permit be cancelled leading you to being tossed out after the years of sweat and tears? These uncertainties are a constant reminder of the life as an immigrant.
Amidst these uncertainties in a foreign country, life must go on. The most important aspect is to ensure your paperwork remains valid to avoid any disruption to your life. The worst form of stress is being non-compliant and illegal in a foreign country where illegal immigrants face extreme difficulties accessing basic amenities, especially healthcare. However, this does not imply that legally documented immigrants do not face similar issues, as they remain foreigners and cannot access the same rights as citizens. Nonetheless, better a legal immigrant than an illegal one. In reality, immigration is often not considered when relocating. However, with any relocation plan, immigration should be considered a priority to avoid unnecessary inconvenience. One key point to note is that effective planning is a very important factor to migrating. Furthermore, the allocation of ample time to one’s immigration process is just as important to avoid the need for any last minute decisions as well as any form of panic and desperation in the event a deadline approaches.
Learn more about our South Africa practice.