HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — At the top of many Christmas wish lists economically troubled zimbabwe There is a travel document, and there are crowds of people flocking to the passport office this holiday season ahead of a planned price increase in the New Year.
Frustration is palpable at the office in the capital Harare as some fear the increase could put the cost of obtaining a passport out of reach and lead to an increase in migration due to economic despair.
Nolan Mukona said he woke up early to queue at the passport office but when he arrived at 5am there were already more than 100 people waiting. Some people slept outside the office throughout the night.
"The only thing that can make my Christmas happy is if I manage to get a passport," said the 49-year-old father of three. "I've been saving for this for the last three months and I have to make sure I get it before January."
At $120, passports were already expensive for many people in a country majority struggle To put food on the table. The Finance Minister's budget proposals for 2024 state that the passport fee will increase to $200 in January, causing an uproar. The increase was then reduced to $150.
Several million Zimbabweans are estimated to have left the southern African country over the past two decades The economy started collapsing. There has been a renewed surge in migration in recent years as hopes for a better life faded after the 2017 ouster of longtime President Robert Mugabe. The late President was accused Run down the country.
Many people, including professionals such as schoolteachers, are taking short nursing courses and seeking passports to travel to the United Kingdom to work in health care.
According to figures released in November by the UK Immigration Department, 21,130 Zimbabweans were issued visas to work in the health and care sector from September last year to September this year, up from 7,846 the previous year.
Only India and Nigeria, countries with significantly larger populations than Zimbabwe, have issued such work visas to more people.
Many more Zimbabweans choose to settle In neighboring South Africa.
According to the South African Statistics Agency, there are just over 1 million Zimbabweans living in that country, up by 600,000 during its last census in 2011, although some believe the figure may be much higher. Because many people cross the porous border illegally.
Along with economic desperation is the expected increase in the price of travel documents creating year-end congestion.
To cater to the increasing numbers the Passport Office has extended working hours to operate at night. Enterprising brokers sell spots for $5 to those willing to skip the line.
“This is my gateway to a better life,” Mukona said of the passport she hopes to get.
He plans to leave his job as an English teacher at a private college and immigrate to the United Kingdom as a carer. Once there, they hope their families will follow them, a move that could be jeopardized by recent proposals by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to change migration visa rules to make it easier for migrant workers to bring their families to the UK. Capacity may be limited.
Harare-based economist Prosper Chitambara said the lack of formal jobs and low prospects for economic recovery had transformed the passport from a mere travel document to a life-changing document for many.
“The challenging economic situation shows no signs of improving, so this is an incentive for Zimbabweans to migrate,” Chitambara said. “The passport is now more than just a travel document. Being in possession of a passport means that financial fortunes have changed as it is a major step towards leaving.
The economist predicted a tough new year for Zimbabweans, citing new or higher taxes proposed by the Finance Minister.
Zimbabwe's government says brain drain comes at a high cost to the country due to migration, especially in the health sector. It has urged the World Health Organization to intervene and stop rich countries from recruiting Zimbabwean nurses, doctors and other health professionals.
Vice President Constantino Chiwenga earlier this year described recruitment as a "crime against humanity" and proposed a law to prevent health professionals from emigrating.
Life has not always been rosy for those leaving.
The British press has reported mistreatment of people who settled in the United Kingdom as care workers, some of whom have to live on the streets or barely earn enough to survive.
“The care sector is vulnerable to worker exploitation and modern slavery,” said a report by the UK charity Unseen in October. Many people who provide their labor in this sector are poorly paid and the work is considered low-skilled.
The group, which campaigns against modern slavery and exploitation, said Zimbabweans were one of the top nationalities suffering in the care sector.
Despite such reports, many people in Zimbabwe are not afraid.
“I will deal with those issues when I get there. Right now my priority is to get the passport and leave from there. “Anything is better than staying in Zimbabwe right now,” Mukona said.
AP Africa News: https://apnews.com/hub/africa