South Africa’s massive visa backlog is getting worse

 ·11 Sep 2023

South African companies have been hit with another blow as the massive work visa backlog has deteriorated even further.

South Africa faces a critical skills vacuum, and hiring international workers has often been cited as a short- and medium-term way to tackle the issue.

However, businesses struggle to get work visas for international workers due to long wait times and a complex application process.

Speaking at Xpatweb’s Global Mobility Breakfast, Acting Chief Director of Permits Phindiwe Mbhele said the Department of Home Affairs (DHA’s) backlog has now increased to over 74,000.

This is a large increase from the backlog of over 60,000 flagged by the department last year. The department previously said that it was expecting to clear the backlog by mid-2024 at the earliest.

Despite a backlog eradication project, Mbhele admitted that the number of outstanding permits is increasing.

That said, Xpatweb Managing Director of Xpatweb Marissa Jacobs noted that there has been a vast improvement in the issuing time of visas and that many corporate employers and international employees are satisfied with the results.

However, she stressed that there is a much higher first-time rejection rate of work visa applications.

Xpatweb said that many of these applications are rejected for unlawful reasons, with applications then having to go through an appeal process. This results in a huge backlog of appeals at the DHA, leading to further delays.

However, Mbhele argued that the rejection rate has only slightly increased from below 25% to 26%.

Possible relief on the cards

Although President Cyril Ramaphosa said there would be significant changes to immigration policies to attract foreign workers during the 2023 SONA, very little has been achieved.

The changes will include more streamlined application requirements, a more flexible points-based system, and the highly-anticipated Trusted Employer Scheme, which will directly help large businesses bring talent into South Africa by supplying trusted employers with a predictable migration approach.

Although the DHA said that it would go ahead with new visas in April, it stressed that the full implementation is still years away.

Jacobs said that she was “tentatively optimistic” that these new policies could help bring in international talent – minimising South Africa’s critical skills crisis.

“An update on, or insights into, the status of these amendments would go a long way toward easing the concerns of many South African businesses,” Xpatweb said.

Read: 3 big changes for visas in South Africa

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