South Africa’s critical skills crisis – companies are desperate

 ·2 Sep 2023

South Africa faces a skilled worker crisis, but an improved visa system could see foreigners fill crucial jobs.

According to Xpatweb, many sectors in South Africa are facing a critical skills shortage, which has made it challenging to recruit the resources they need.

Skilled South Africans are emigrating out of the country for new opportunities abroad, which has also been exacerbated by load shedding and a challenging economic environment.

Despite this, South Africa remains a hotspot for foreign workers and those looking to work remotely, which boosts the South African economy and businesses that crave skilled employees.

Thus, the shortage of skilled workers could be filled by foreign nationals in the short and medium term; however, the strict and currently backlogged South African visa process makes gaining a South African work visa extremely difficult.

Xpatweb is currently running its 2023 Critical Skills Survey, with the company noting a few trends in the statistics that have already been collected from certain companies:

  • 78% of participants stated that their organisation struggles to recruit critically skilled individuals.

  • 73% indicated that an international search will assist the organisation in meeting critical business objectives.

  • 82% of participants confirmed succession planning and skills transfer is a priority for their business.

XpatWeb said that these statistics are similar to the previous survey. Amongst the initial statistics, there is also a need for remote working visas in South Africa to retain and attract highly skilled foreign workers and their families:

  • 93% stated that the spouse/partner of a Critical Skills Visa holder should be authorised to work in the host country upon recognition of their dependent status

  • 81% stated that dual career and partner issues have always been and are becoming even more critical to their organisations.


Although Xpatweb runs the survey yearly, the 2020/21 survey – which surveyed 220 multinational and JSE-listed companies, was able to achieve some notable gains.

In 2022, the government updated the Critical Skills List, which had not been changed since 2014, and re-introduced several essential skills that had been marked from removal, such as those in the trade and engineering field, following input from Xpatweb.

“Ultimately, the positive response from the government indicated that they are willing to assist if they are provided with sufficient evidence,” Xpatweb said.

The 2022/23 Critical Skills Survey is still accepting submissions from interested parties.

That said, the government is doing something about the issue, with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Operation Vulindela saying that three significant changes to the visa regime are almost ready to be presented for public comment, making it easier for businesses to draw skills to the country.

The three key changes coming from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) include:

  • Creating new visa categories for remote workers and start-ups;
  • Establishing a points-based system for work visa application routes;
  • Introducing a trusted employer scheme.

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