Visa chaos in South Africa

 ·3 Apr 2023

People willing and wanting to work in South Africa are being held back by failing visa services – which is having damaging knock-on effects on business and economic growth in the country, says Busi Mavuso, the CEO of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA)

In her weekly letter, Mavuso said that roughly 56,000 foreigners were facing having their visas cancelled at the end of March because the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) could not process their applications.

“They were given a last-minute reprieve – two days before the deadline – extending the validity of their existing status until the end of the year.”

“This is appalling. People’s lives are thrown into turmoil, unable to know whether they would be allowed to stay in the country, many consider home.”

The 56,500 visas referred to by Mavuso were planned to be completed by June 2024. However, the situation has only gotten worse.

On 29 March, the DHA implemented temporary measures to assist foreign nationals that faced delays; the department noted that since last year its backlog had grown to almost 62,700.

Mavuso said that this kind of scenario presents an impossible situation for business and is a serious impediment to the country’s economy.

“We have major skills deficits in many areas, including the technical skills needed to build and maintain our factories, water infrastructure and power plants,” said the CEO.

“We need to give international companies the sense that they are welcome in South Africa and the confidence to plan on investments here without the fear that they will simply be unable to send their people because we cannot manage our own bureaucracy.”

She said that the administrative chaos is a massive turnoff for foreign companies.

It’s not just the challenge of foreign workers being stuck abroad; it is also the rippled effects on families that are left unable to plan a move, said Mavuso. A senior executive might reconsider the jump if his family was to be disrupted in terms of schooling and a lack of concise timing regarding the processing of documents.

“If we are to be a welcoming destination for skilled professionals, we need to welcome their families too. They must be able to send their kids to schools where they will be able to further their home curricula,” she added.

“They should be comfortable that they will have access to healthcare and safe and secure housing. They need an ecosystem that is attractive.”

Mavuso said that some progress had been made regarding visas through Operation Vulindlela as well as interventions provided by Invest SA. However, these ad hoc initiatives are not a substitute for an efficient state delivering on its own policies.

The CEO has called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to announce a credible intervention to fix the visa mess during the South African Investment Conference next week.

Read: These job sectors pay the highest average salaries in South Africa

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