Big changes proposed for visas in South Africa – including plans for highly skilled foreign workers

 ·8 Aug 2022

Finance minister Enoch Godongwana says that the government will explore the feasibility of a visa recognition programme next quarter that will allow the holders of certain visas of recognised countries to enter South Africa without a new application process.

Speaking during the release of the Operation Vulindlela (OV) report on Friday (5 August), the minister pointed out that the government rolled out its e-visa system and has extended it to 14 countries to support the country’s tourism sector. It is anticipated that more countries will be added to the list in due course.

A comprehensive review of the work visa system has been completed, with recommendations for reform of the visa regime to attract skills and investment, said the minister. The report is due out later in August.

In the meantime, the Department of Home Affairs has published an updated critical skills list for South Africa, showing what skills are in short supply across the country. The new list has added 39 new skills, building on top of the previous publication in February of this year.

The critical skills list from the Department of Home Affairs falls under the Immigration Act and sets out the qualifications and skills deemed to be critical for the country in relation to an application for a critical skills work visa or permanent residence permit.

“South Africa’s labour market is characterised by a growing demand for skilled labour alongside high levels of unemployment for unskilled labour. Addressing the skills shortage requires a combination of short and longer-term solutions,” the government has said.

“In the short term, we need to attract skills where these are in short supply in order to boost the competitiveness of firms and enable growth and dynamism in the economy,” it said.

“Highly skilled foreign workers create more than one job for South African workers on average and contribute significantly to tax revenues and spending in the economy, as well as to productivity improvements and innovation.”

Operation Vulindlela together with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) undertook a comprehensive review of the regulatory framework and processes for skills visas in South Africa.

The review led by Mavuso Msimang sought to identify improvements that could enhance the effectiveness of the visa system. Its recommendations aim to achieve a balance between the economic benefits of skilled immigration and the need to promote and prioritise the employment of South Africans.

An effective work visa system could contribute significantly to higher levels of economic growth and position South Africa as a globally competitive destination for investment and innovation,” the government said.


Labour minister Thulas Nxesi recently told Bloomberg that he aims to add as many as 2 million new jobs before the next elections, despite the current high levels of unemployment that have plagued the country for decades.

About 12 million South Africans are without jobs. That means unemployment according to the expanded definition, which includes people who were available for work but not looking for a job, is at 45.5%. Africa’s most-industrialized nation will go to the polls to elect its next president in 2024, Bloomberg reported.

Nxesi’s job target may be difficult to achieve – if history is a guide, it said. The government’s 2012 economic blueprint that president Cyril Ramaphosa co-authored targeted an official unemployment rate of 14% by 2020. That’s the year when the official jobless rate exceeded 30%, and it’s now at 34.5%.

“Whether or not that is achievable, I don’t know,” Nxesi said of his goal in an interview in Bloomberg’s office in Johannesburg. The government is working on policy amendments to prioritize South Africans’ access to jobs over foreign nationals with the same skills, he said.

Strict labour laws, stagnant productivity, bureaucratic hurdles and a skills shortage have reduced the ability of companies to hire additional workers, Bloomberg said.

There’s been a trend of “employment of foreign workers at the expense of the South African workers,” Nxesi said. “The issue is the employers who deliberately employ these vulnerable people.”

Reducing undocumented immigrants will be vital in addressing unemployment, he said. “It’s a very sensitive matter everywhere, but if you look in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Nigeria and Ghana – they have all declared that you can’t bring anyone from outside if there is a national who is able to perform that job,” he said.

To limit the influx of illegal migrants from neighbouring nations, South Africa wants to establish a border control agency. The Border Management Authority will have branches at six border posts, to begin with, and employ people from various government departments to tighten the implementation of immigration policies.

Read: These jobs have been added to South Africa’s critical skills list


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