The South African work visa system is currently in the worst shape it has ever been, says Marisa Jacobs and Eden Ben-Attar, experts from work permit and ex-pat solutions firm Xpatweb.
The state of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and its failure to get foreign internationals their working visas issued correctly and timely has made south Africa a less friendly country for investors, they said.
“Other countries get certain visa categories issued at record speed and with high proficiency. The current system places foreign investors in a difficult spot, as they need to be prepared for a frustrating process and a bit of a fight to get their visa,” said Xpatweb.
Exacerbated by a major backlog in work visa applications, South Africa lacks an attractive avenue for much-wanted skilled workers. On 9 December, the DHA reported that it was sitting with a visa backlog of over 56,000 applications that is only to be cleared by the middle of 2024.
Written in a parliamentary Q&A last year, the minister of home affairs minister Aaron Motsaledi said that his department still needs to process 56,543 visas and that turnaround times for work and business visas are currently taking between eight and 14 weeks.
Despite the minister launching an initiative in 2022 to make the head office manage work visa approvals instead of embassies to ensure consistency in documentation and address corruption, it appears to have failed, said Xpatweb.
“Various directives were issued in this regard and to the point where the work visa adjudication process was handed back to Embassies on new submissions. The embassies have not taken back the Head Office submissions during the directive period, so these remain with Head Office according to the certain embassies,” said Xpatweb.
The expat firm said that the primary problem at the DHA, which is holding hope for a better system back, is that new submissions are being made while older submissions are not getting closer to a conclusion.
“Where a system is under pressure, you are dealing with officials who must put out fires, and they are under constant pressure.”
“Unfortunately, we have also seen that this pressure has resulted in various unwanted behaviours coming through, such as rejections for not good reasons and requests for information which are outside the law, which appears obvious ‘buying time’ tactics,” said the firm.
“We do not believe the system will get better anytime soon due to the sheer quantity of the historical backlog.”
Both the president and the finance minister have raised concerns over work visas in South Africa.
During his latest national budget speech, finance minister Enoch Godongwana said that the government is working to clear the backlog of work visa applications and is implementing reforms in line with the skilled immigration review. However, challenges in electricity and logistics threaten to undermine progress.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his State of the Nation Address, said that the country requires more skilled workers urgently and echoed his promises to introduce a new working visa for remote workers that would allow them to enter the country and work on a temporary basis.
Jacobs said that a visa for scarce skills would benefit organizations in need. However, she emphasized that the swift implementation of key proposals is necessary for real change to occur. She also noted that employers require urgent improvements.
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