Skills nightmare for businesses in South Africa

 ·29 Aug 2022
Network engineer

The apparent collapse of Home Affairs’ ability to manage existing applications for skilled visas affects all businesses that need foreign skills as part of their workforce, says Busi Mavuso, the chief executive officer of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA).

This has led to there being little choice but for international firms to either delay investment into the country or consider relocating elsewhere in Africa, she said.

This follows a French group of businesses that collectively employs 65,000 South Africans not being able to process visas for higher-ups that are essential for a business to continue in the county.

Writing in her weekly letter, Mavuso said that the business community in South Africa received a letter from the French businesses setting out the massive problems they are having in securing working visas for key personnel, including:

  • Engineers;
  • Business controllers, and;
  • Experts for specialised equipment.

They described the situation as a “nightmare”.

Currently, many of the firms’ existing senior managers have not been able to get work permits despite submitting all required documentation, said Mavusom adding that the problem seems to have arisen since the centralisation of all visa application processing by Home Affairs in Pretoria.

“I am told there are backlogs of thousands, and only a handful of staff are processing these. It is difficult to understand what the underlying problem is – management failures, xenophobia, or some kind of political dysfunction. Either way, it is having catastrophic effects on the ability of businesses to deal with the skills crisis that is holding back investment and growth.”

Mavuso said that business has partnered with the government to tackle deep economic issues by attracting, supplying and mobilising scarce skills such as engineers and project managers.

However, she pointed out that the same government that wants these key skills makes it more difficult to attain them – through its own dysfunction.

Home Affairs is also apparently unable to prioritise different applications, with everyone from junior engineers to CEOs stuck in the same backlog, said Mavuso.

“To be clear, we will persist in finding ways to support…government more broadly, but it would be much easier if our bureaucratic and regulatory functions – like processing visas – were working the way they are meant to. This isn’t even a call for policy change – this is the implementation of existing policy. ”

“The Operation Vulindlela programme of the Presidency and National Treasury has made good progress on several fronts, including getting a scarce skills list finalised and pushing forward with eVisas for tourists. But the apparent collapse of Home Affairs’ ability to manage existing applications for skilled visas affects all businesses that need foreign skills as part of their workforces.”

This includes the urgent need to bring in foreign skills to fix our energy system and build new capacity, added Mavuso.

“It should be obvious that these are the kind of skills that create jobs in South Africa, not take them,” said Mavuso. “The 65,000 workers that the group of French companies employ are at risk if those companies cannot bring in the skills they need.”

“Eventually, they will be forced to curtail operations and reduce investment, and jobs will be lost. The point is also obvious when it comes to the electricity crisis – every day that we are blighted with load shedding is another blow to the economy and its ability to employ people.”

Mavuso said that bringing in electrical engineers and other specialists, many to replace the experienced and skilled engineers who were hounded out of the country during state capture, is critical to resolving the energy crisis.

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