Big background check and qualifications problem for businesses in South Africa

 ·8 Jul 2022

South Africa’s immigration experts have raised concerns about the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and frustratingly lengthy delays around the issuance of evaluation certificates.

These certificates are a requirement for businesses in South Africa looking to bring skilled workers in from overseas.  What used to be a processing time of three-six weeks maximum is now taking three-five months on average, says specialist advisory firm Xpatweb.

Levi Schooling, an expatriate solution specialist at Xpatweb and ex-SAQA employee of seven years, explained that verifications and evaluations of foreign qualifications were not the main focus of SAQA, as they were mandated with the following duties:

  • The maintenance of the National Learner Records Database;
  • Regulation of institutions and qualifications issued in South Africa;
  • Verification of South African qualifications;
  • Advisory services as to learning trajectory and career advice;
  • The registration of professional bodies;
  • The evaluation of foreign qualifications.

Levi added that SAQA’s evaluators face a ‘mammoth task’ in checking qualifications and that each check needs to satisfy the following requirements, to be successful:

  • That the qualifications are authentic;
  • That the Institution offering the qualifications was an accredited institution at the time of enrolment and award;
  • That the institution was accredited to offer the qualification at the time of enrolment and award;
  • That the qualifications are comparable to a South African qualification according to level descriptors indicated by the Policy and Criteria for the Evaluation of Foreign qualifications

While the evaluation processes ran smoothly in the past, with very few applications taking longer than six weeks, he noted that that was no longer the case.

He said that the lengthy processing times could be attributed to the recent restructuring that occurred shortly after the level 5 lockdown.

While tariffs are charged for the evaluation of foreign qualifications, Treasury still allocates funds for SAQA’s other functions. Treasury informed SAQA of implemented budget cuts which continued until the middle point of the Covid years when it became evident that in order to meet the budget, a large-scale restructuring would be required, he said.

“Essentially this meant that whilst SAQA had a staff complement of over 100 personnel before the restructuring, the proposed restructuring would leave 30 personnel once completed. It was further explained, that out of those 30 employees, a mere eight of them were assigned to foreign qualification evaluations,” Xpatweb said.

“One can now clearly see that the delay and lengthy processing times for SAQA evaluations are directly attributed to the low staff compliment, However, these have intermittently been supplemented by contract workers to assist in compensating for the shortfall.

“This delay in the processing of the evaluations has had a huge impact on visa applications, specifically those looking to apply for work visas.”

Commentary by Jo-lene Da Silva-Vergottini, expatriate solutions advisor at Xpatweb.

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