South Africa Review Immigration Changes

December 22, 2014

Over the course of 2014, one of the biggest immigration issues across the globe has been the South African government's roll out of new visa rules and regulations. Set up to run from the end of May, the rules initially caused something of a backlash, due to the widespread perception that there had been a lack of communication and clarity regarding the new requirements, especially concerning business travel from South Africa's key overseas markets. Although it was not part of the plan, the changes also caused a number of would-be migrants to be declared as undesirable. This was the case at a number of different entry points to the country, including international airports, and was largely due to the fact that workers had not been aware of the new regulations or that their work visas had not been issued in the first place. 

Despite the undoubted challenges that the new immigration and work visa regime has presented to the South African authorities who have been charged with delivering it, there something of a brighter outlook for the coming year. Many of the new regulations which were brought in over the course of the summer have been subject to amendments, especially in the area of business and work visas. For example, the number of categories for both of these types of permit has rocketed up. In both cases, there are now 130 categories which can be applied under. When the new regulations came into force, there had been just ten options in each case. Today, we focus on the changes the South African immigration process have faced and look into the essential information required for anyone who is considering a move there in 2015.

In common with many other types of regulatory changes, the press in South Africa have tended to focus on the negative outcomes for immigration in the country caused by the roll out earlier this year. Having said that, it is worth bearing in mind that the changes were put in place in an attempt to make the country more appealing to highly skilled workers, particularly in industries with skills shortages. In addition, the regulations that relate to business practices are designed to facilitate more entrepreneurial and corporate investments from overseas. Furthermore, the idea has been to make South Africa one of the most inviting nations for migrating retired people and individuals who are already financially independent.

New Immigration Facilitation Centres

In fairness to the South African Department of Home Affairs, which was charged with administering immigration under the new regime, there was not enough infrastructure put in place before the changes came into force. However, the department soon announced the opening of eleven separate Visa and Permit Facilitation Centres. Spread among nine different provinces in the country, these are now mostly up and running without issues. Processing visa applications before they are sent to the department's headquarters in Pretoria, these centres have made it much easier for non-South Africans who have already gained a legal residency permit in the country to apply for a visa or a permit extension at somewhere conveniently local. It is worth noting that an application fee is charged at these facilitation centres. Despite many people seeing this as yet another outlay that they have to make, the fee for obtaining a visa in South Africa is less than the global average. The charge makes for a more efficient administration process - something that was generally lacking under the previous system.

The new immigration rules also encompass a work type visa which, as mentioned, has been rapidly expanded. Formerly referred to as either the Exceptional Skills Work Permit or the Quota Work Permit, the 150 job categories now included under the work visa include many engineering and research roles. From now on, the occupations that are considered under the work visa system are held on the Critical Skills List and the old terms have now been abandoned in favour of this one. The list includes many professional jobs like quantity surveyors, risk assessors and IT security specialists. Any would-be skilled migrant now has a much better opportunity of successfully applying for a work visa in a category that relates to their skill set.

For migrants who are considering opening a business or making a significant investment in a South African company, a relevant visa may be obtained. However, proof of a capital sum of R5million has been required along with a written undertaking to invest this over a two year period since the new regulations came into force. Nevertheless, the Department of Home Affairs has recently made provisions to waiver some or all of this large amount which – once more – indicates the South African authorities' desire to offer flexibility whilst the implementation of the new immigration system continues to bed in.

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