New visa nightmare for South Africa

 ·15 Aug 2023

South Africa’s immigration landscape has changed drastically over the past 18 months, bringing with it a host of new hurdles that have become a nightmare for businesses to navigate.

Now it appears that the Department of Home Affairs is rejecting visas for seemingly frivolous – or outright incorrect – reasons, says immigration specialist, Xpatweb.

According to Xpatweb, individuals, HR professionals and businesses looking to draw critical skills have always faced an uphill battle with work visa applications – dealing with long wait times and a complex application process.

However, in the past year and a half, even more roadblocks and headaches have been introduced.

“While most of these changes have been to rectify the issues within the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), it has resulted in lengthy processing times and mounting rejections for frivolous reasons,” the group said.

With the current critical skills shortage and the need for companies to retain or gain specialist talent through the various work visa categories, the group said that the country can ill-afford to let the chaos sink in.

The “New” Roadblocks

South Africa has a massive backlog of visa applications. At the start of the year, the DHA indicated that this was well over 62,000, and that it would only be resolved by mid-2024 at the earliest.

Xpatweb noted that the backlog within the DHA has persisted since 2016, and little has been done to resolve it.

“While the Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, has announced several mitigation measures, such as various concessions extending the validity of long-term visas and the deployment of more departmental resources, the backlog continues to persist,” it said.

Additionally, the number of rejected applications continues to rise due to the DHA being under such undue strain.

Marisa Jacobs, Managing Director of Xpatweb, said that she has “never seen so many rejections” in the market.

“While the DHA typically rejects applications for not meeting certain criteria, there seems to be a trend of rejections based on arbitrary and frivolous reasons,” she said.

Xpatweb said it has seen several rejected visas stating that applicants had filed the application incorrectly, despite this not being the case.

Further, the group noted that some Embassies and their VFS offices abroad have pushed the boundaries of efficiency – only adding to an already unpredictable application process.

“These challenges continue to leave many businesses and applications with open work visa applications feeling frustrated and unsure of where to turn next,” it said.

It is unlikely that the problems will be going away any time soon, it said.


Xpatweb said that individuals and businesses looking at work visa applications should develop and effective roadmap to mitigate the nightmare wait at the DHA.

“When it comes to the Work visa application, regardless of whether one is applying for a Critical Skills Visa, a General Work Visa, or an Intra-Company transfer, failing to plan is planning to fail. The best way to plan is by having a strict submission strategy and a well-planned roadmap,” it said.

A well-planned roadmap ensures first-time accurate applications and avoids delays and/or rejections from the DHA.

Additionally, it considers various alternative routes one may consider when things do not go according to plan.

Due to the many hurdles currently in the way of work visa applicants, the chances of needing an alternative route are quite high.

This has become so important that Xpatweb said it has taken a legal approach to resolving any delays in the processing times of work visa applications – especially where clients no longer have the luxury of time and risk losing critical resources (i.e., potential employees).

The “Legal Escalation Method” is a three-step approach that places the DHA or an Embassy under pressure to ensure a reasonable outcome.

Jacobs said that while this approach is not one the firm would usually take with the DHA and Embassies, it has had a “massive positive impact.”

“Navigating the work visa application process will continue to be challenging for individuals, HR professionals and businesses.

“However, it has become clear that understanding the intricacies of the various work visa categories, their qualifying criteria and being fully prepared for every aspect of the application process does wonders for ensuring a positive outcome,” she said.

Read: Massive visa backlog crippling South Africa

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