Another loose thread left hanging in South Africa

 ·10 Feb 2023

President Cyril Ramaphosa has again reaffirmed the government’s intention to introduce a remote working visa – repeating a promise made a year ago to help solve South Africa’s growing skills crisis.

Despite the stated intention, however, the president has given no further details on the plan, nor any timelines associated with it. Meanwhile, repeated comments from the Department of Home Affairs on the matter show that zero progress has been made to make these visas a reality.

Responding to several parliamentary Q&As in 2022, Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi stated plainly that there are no provisions for such a visa in South Africa’s laws – as such, there are no plans to launch 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 at the time.

This has become a sore point for those involved in South Africa’s tourism industry.

According to the City of Cape Town, it has been pushing for a remote worker visa since the lifting of lockdown, after the Covid-19 crisis wiped out the travel and hospitality sectors in the country.

“Since then, we have been lobbying for the introduction of a remote working visa because of its massive economic spinoffs for the industry. Our research shows that a special visa would help attract more international visitors, particularly ‘digital nomads’ who can work virtually from anywhere in the world,” it said.

The city said that working tourists tend to spend up to R50,000 during their stays and that over 40 countries around the world have already adopted these special visas to boost their own economies.

“If our visa system is not revised and improved, we stand to lose out to destinations with less arduous administrative platforms. Remote workers have exploded onto the travel scene and, according to one report of an incentive programme in Oklahoma in the USA, digital nomads generated nearly $20 million in additional local gross domestic product.

“With a special visa, South Africa stands to realise such gains,” it said.

In lieu of an actual plan of action from Ramaphosa, the city is proposing an amendment to Section 11 of the Immigration Act, which relates to an extension of visas beyond 90 days for specific activities.

Through an amendment, the Act could include the following requirements:

  • An applicant must provide evidence of employment abroad, as well as a sufficient income from such employment or own business registered abroad;
  • Prohibit the applicant’s work activities in South Africa;
  • Allow the applicant’s dependants to accompany them on application.

“If South Africa were to implement such strategies, we could indeed create a tourism-related job in every home in the country. Whether you’re in aviation, logistics, transportation, boat-building, hospitality, retail, design, or clean energy, tourism relates to your work because it brings clients to your door,” it said.

While South Africa has made no forward movement on nomad or remote work visas, some measures to address the skills crisis in the country were introduced in the last 12 months.

Most notably, Home Affairs published an updated critical skills list and moved to fast-track critical skill visas in the country. An apparent collapse of visa processing in August 2022 led to a significant backlog forming by the end of the year, however.

The backlog is only expected to be cleared up by June 2023.

Read: 106 countries you can travel to visa-free with a South African passport in 2023

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