Massive visa backlog in South Africa

 ·9 Dec 2022

The Department of Home Affairs is sitting with a massive visa backlog of over 56,000 applications, which it says will only be cleared by the middle of 2024.

Responding to a written parliamentary Q&A this week, home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi said that his department still needs to process 56,543 visas.

He said that the turnaround times for visas differ depending on which visa is being processed. It usually takes 4 to 10 weeks to process critical skills visas, he said, while business and general work visas take 8 to 14 weeks.

“The department envisages to have cleared the current backlog by June 2024 for all categories of visas,” he said.

Visa applications and processing have become a veritable nightmare for businesses in South Africa looking to hire specialists and critical skills needed for operations.

Companies have run into frustrating hurdles with these visa types over the last few months as the department dithered with systems and shifted processes around. Businesses have described getting the necessary visas for foreign workers in the country as a nightmare.

Following an apparent collapse in the processing of critical skill and business visas in August, the department promised to fast-track the processing of critical skill and business visas in October – but progress has been slow.

At the time, Motsoaledi said his department and the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition had set up a dedicated team to deal with the growing backlog and to track and ensure the finalisation of business visas. However, as revealed this week, the backlog remains significant.

Quickly processing Critical Skills visas was a key target in Home Affairs’ Annual Performance Plan.

A new Critical Skills list was published in February 2022, with a major update in August, adding 39 positions related to the medical field.

The publishing of the critical skills list was an essential aspect of president Cyril Ramaphosa’s plan to draw much-needed professionals to South Africa.

Other visa developments promised by the president have also fallen flat.

Digital nomad visas

In his state of the nation address in February, president Cyril Ramaphosa said that the government was looking to adopt remote-working ‘digital nomad’ and start-up visas as part of a push to attract more skilled workers.

He also said that the country would introduce other visa reforms to make it easier for people to enter the country.

Since making the announcement, little has been done to execute these plans, however.

In a separate response this week, Motsoaledi reiterated that South Africa has made no provisions for a so-called ‘digital nomad’ visa. The minister said that current legislation does not make any room for such visas, and so there are simply no plans to introduce one.

“The current visa categories are legislated by the Immigration Act No. 13 of 2002. In its current form, the Immigration Act does not make provision for digital nomad eVisa. Therefore, there are no plans to implement a digital nomad e-visa,” he said.

He said that South Africa’s eVisa programme was established to make it easier for travellers to enter the country without having to visit an embassy or mission beforehand. There are also 135 countries who can enter South Africa without having to get a visa.

However, the three- and six-month forward outlook for these programmes shows no progress.

EVisas are currently available in 14 countries. Motsoaledi said that his department has not yet decided on the total number and the names of countries that will qualify for eVisas in the quarter.

Beyond the 135 countries that South Africa offers visa-free entry to, Motsoaledi gave no indication of this expanding over the next six months. Kenya was added to the visa-free entry list in November.

Read: South Africa announces new visa exemptions

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