The Department of Home Affairs says it has started laying the groundwork for new visa types to be introduced in South Africa, in a bid to draw in skilled workers.
The department has published its 2023/24 annual performance plan, which includes its intentions and targets for the current financial year.
In the plan, Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi said that the department is currently exploring new visa categories, including start-up visas and remote working visas.
The minister has long responded to inquiries about these visas by saying that the current regulatory framework to introduce them does not exist, and had indicated the department had no plans in place to change this.
However, these visas, and a wider push to draw skilled labour to South Africa, have been key points in president Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) for the last two years.
Action on Ramaphosa’s promises is now finally being taken.
“The comprehensive review of the work visa system is underway to explore new visa categories that could enable economic growth, such as a start-up visa and a remote working visa,” Motsoaledi said.
“In this regard, certain process and policy recommendations proposed by the Vulindlela Task Team are being considered by the DHA for implementation. These recommendations are aimed at establishing a visa regime that will attract skills and promote tourism. ”
As part of these plans, the department said it would publish a White Paper on the Management of Citizenship, International Migration and Refugee Protection, which will address these new visa types, among other key immigration issues.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2023 State of the Nation Address made commitments such as the establishment of a more flexible points-based system to attract skilled migration, implementing a trusted employer scheme to make the visa process easier for large investors and streamlining application requirements as well as introducing a remote worker visa and special dispensation for high-growth start-ups
These will all be covered in the whitepaper, the department said.
A consultation document (green paper) is expected to be completed by the end of the first quarter of the financial year (end June), with a whitepaper expected to be submitted to cabinet by the end of the fourth quarter (April 2024).
In the meantime, the DHA said it will also continue rolling out an e-Visa system, which will place technology at the centre of operations by making it easy and secure to enter and depart South Africa.
While the department has big plans for reworking the visa regime, it is currently sitting with a massive backlog that is causing chaos in its back offices.
The department announced last week that it would be extending the validity of some standing visas while it tries to process over 62,700 applications and waivers that have backed up.
To put the extent of the backlog in context, the department aimed to have most critical skills visas processed within four weeks of application in 2022, but has estimated that it only managed to process 20% of these applications in that time.
This is down from 57% in 2021. The DHA has now set a lofty goal of having 90% of these visas processed in 2023 – however it anticipates only being able to clear the current backlog some time in 2024, so this is looking unattainable.
One of the key solutions the department is proposing is introducing “one-top-shop” visa processing through the Visa Adjudication System (VAS).
“The VAS enables the capability to submit visa applications online and adjudicate electronically, from receipt of applications to issuing of outcomes. This brings efficiency and supports facilitating the movement of business persons, migrant workers with skills and prospective investors to South Africa,” the department said.
The implementation of these one-stop-shop centres will offer investors and their families reduced turnaround times for priority applications by establishing a dedicated centre at the back office to deal with applications received from these centres and offer immigration-related advice.
The VAS will provide for the central administration of all visa and permitting applications made within South Africa through the department’s appointed frontline servicing partner, VFS Global.
“The White Paper on Home Affairs states that by 2025 core elements of the new model must be fully functional, including basic administrative and core business systems, and required security standards must be maintained,” it said.
By 2029 the envisioned end-state must be achieved with the legacy model fully replaced, world-class standards maintained and funding for the full execution of the DHA mandate secured.