South Africa’s visa chaos deepens

 ·25 Aug 2023

Immigration experts at Xpatweb say that South Africa’s visa landscape has become increasingly chaotic over the past 18 months, with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) not providing any clarity or regular updates on what’s going on.

The group said that the country’s immigration landscape has always been complex, but the past year and half had introduced even more hurdles that are negatively impacting individuals and businesses alike.

For individuals, their applications have been left in limbo – adding to a backlog of applications – while businesses have been left stunted, unable to secure the critical skills they need for their local operations.

These administrative issues, coupled with the slow integration of the legislative reforms promised during the 2023 State of the Nation Address (SONA), have left applicants floundering, the group said.

“The main hurdle affecting the South African immigration sphere has been the ongoing backlog of visa applications and Permanent Residency permits within the DHA,” it said.

“This backlog has persisted since 2020 and reached a peak of over 60,000 applications in early 2023.”

Unfortunately, despite the mitigation measures the Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi, has implemented, the backlog persists, placing the DHA under undue strain.

The subsequent ripple effect has been an increased number of rejections for trivial and unlawful reasons.

The ratio of rejected visas to issued visas is heavily skewed towards negative outcomes – a trend that has surpassed anything observed in the last decade, Xpatweb said.

Additionally, the unpredictability of the visa application process has been compounded by some embassies and VFS offices “pushing the boundaries of efficiency”.

“These hurdles have placed a spotlight on work visas, especially in light of the critical skills crisis in South Africa,” it said.

During the 2023 SONA, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced several changes to immigration policies that should have worked to attract foreign talent to South Africa’s shores.

However, to date, very little has been done or delivered.

Big plans, little hope

Among the proposed changes include the streamlining of application requirements and the introduction of a more flexible points-based system.

Together, these two amendments could speed up the entry of qualified candidates, Xpatweb said.

“Perhaps the most anticipated announcement, however, was that of a Trusted Employer Scheme (TES),” it said.

The TES aims to directly assist large businesses in bringing talent into the country by providing trusted employers with a predictable migration process. Additionally, the government has proposed shortened turnaround times for these applications.

The President further announced the introduction of a remote worker visa and a special dispensation for high-growth start-ups.

The DHA announced in April that it would be moving ahead with these new visas, but it has only just started on the basic stages – with the full implementation still years away.

While the rest of the proposed immigration policy changes are yet to come full circle, Marisa Jacobs, Managing Director of Xpatweb, said she is “tentatively optimistic” that these initiatives could eventually bring relief to the critical skills crisis.

Xpatweb’s latest annual Critical Skills Survey showed that the vast majority of businesses need international skills to meet business objections.

“An update on, or insights into, the status of these amendments would go a long way toward easing the concerns of many South African businesses,” the group said.

Read: New visa nightmare for South Africa

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