How long it takes to get a work visa in South Africa

 ·6 Jun 2023

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) revealed the average time it has taken over the past two years for a decision on work visas to be made, but poor administration has meant applicants have waited far longer than what the department claims.

During a parliamentary Q&A, the department was asked whether it has established standards for the time period a decision on an application will be made for each visa type made available to foreign nationals for entrance into South Africa.

This query comes in light of concerns that long waiting times for visa approvals where having a direct economic contribution as far as employment and investment are concerned.

The relevant visas of concern include critical skill work visas, general work visas, and business visas.

In response, the department said the standards regarding turnaround times are as follows:

  • Critical Skill work visa: turnaround time is four weeks;
  • General work visa: turnaround time is eight weeks; and
  • Business visa: turnaround time is eight weeks.

Considering these standards, the department further provided the average time it has taken over the past two years for a decision on each visa type to be made and communicated to the applicants.

According to the data in the department’s Annual Performance Plan – the average number of weeks to finalise business and general work visas has been within the department’s standards – taking between 5.3 and 6 weeks over 2021/22 and 4.3 and 4.7 weeks over 2022/23. 

However, critical skills work visas are of concern, taking much longer than the standard to be finalised. According to the department, these visas took, on average, between 4.6 and 5 weeks in 2021/22 and 6 and 6.5 weeks in 2022/23.

This delay in critical skills visas are holding back skilled immigrants from working in South Africa, said Busi Mavuso, the CEO of Businesses Leadership South Africa (BLSA).

Concerningly, the CEO noted that some people have been waiting much longer than the average turnaround times the department claim, with some waiting over six months to receive a work visa.

“The current visa regime makes it more difficult for businesses to expand their operations,” said Mavuso.

“Foreign companies cannot commit to major investments in South Africa when they cannot be confident that they can send their top people into the country,” she added.

Included in the department’s parliamentary response, it said the volume of applications received and accepted daily by Home Affairs currently exceeds the available human resource capacity.

However, the department has already been open and transparent by publicly announcing that the current backlog will be cleared by June 2024, while the DHA has outlined an implementation plan to ensure the recommendations published in the report under Operation Vulindlela are adopted.

Recommendations made under the report include, but are not limited to:

  • Improving efficiencies
  • Streamlining documentation and adjudication processes
  • Modernising and automating the IT systems
  • Increasing capacity at immigration branches

Read: Outlook for business in South Africa the worst since hard lockdown in 2020

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