If you want to work in South Africa, there are several main types of work visas you can apply for to legally work and reside in South Africa.
If you want to work in South Africa, there are several types of temporary work visas available depending on your job situation in South Africa: general employment, inter-company transfer, highly skilled migrant or business entrepreneur.
As South Africa has a growing economy and manufacturing sector, South Africa has many job opportunities for skilled workers in various positions and increasingly foreigners are finding work in South Africa. However, there are fewer opportunities for employment in South Africa in unskilled or semi-skilled positions, of which there is already a vast supply of workers. Thus, the government encourages applications by skilled workers in occupations for which there is a shortage in the country; the most recent list of critical skills lists almost 35,000 positions across 53 different categories.
There is also emphasis on attracting those wishing to set up a business in South Africa, particularly where this will result in:
- capital being brought into South Africa from abroad;
- the manufacture of goods for export;
- the employment of South Africans.
The various types of South African work visas depend on the employment situation of the applicant. Below is a list of the types of work visas and permits in South Africa, the conditions required to qualify and how to apply.
Who needs a South African work visa?
Your South African work visa acts as your temporary residence visa. Any person who is not a citizen or permanent resident in South Africa and who wishes to work in the country generally needs to obtain a work visa.
Work visas can be issued for the same time as your employment contract or for a maximum number of years, and can generally be extended. You should apply for a work visa if:
- you wish to take up temporary employment in South Africa, with or without reward.
- you wish to set up or run a business temporarily in South Africa.
- your company abroad wants to transfer you temporarily to a branch or affiliate of the company in South Africa.
- you’ve been recruited to work temporarily in South Africa as an employee or consultant for government in terms of an intergovernmental agreement.
- you wish to visit a company in South Africa in which you have more than 25 percent control share.
- you wish to acquire fixed assets in South Africa for speculation or rent.
- you wish to visit South Africa to produce a feature film, documentary or TV commercial.
- you’re a priest or religious worker volunteering to work temporarily at a religious institution in South Africa.
- you’re an au pair intending to work temporarily in South Africa as part of a cultural exchange.
Types of South African work visas
General work visa
The General Work Visa is the most common type applied for. In order to obtain this type of visa, the employing company first has to provide substantial proof that the position cannot be filled by a South African citizen. This usually means they have to advertise the position in the local media first, so as to ensure jobs aren’t being denied to South African citizens. Secondly, proof has to be submitted of the applicant’s qualifications and/or experience, and their qualifications have to be checked by the relevant South African authority, South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).
Applicants will also be required to obtain certification from the Department of Labour, stating among other things, that their salary and benefits are commensurate with those paid to South African citizens in similar positions.
Applicants must sign a permanent contract of employment and include this in their application pack to the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), or to the embassy, consulate or diplomatic representative in their home country. Employers must be aware of foreign employees’ visas; if an employee is found to be working illegally, the company is also liable and can face large fines from the DHA.
Critical skills work visa (highly skilled migrants)
There are some skills and qualifications that are regarded as critical or exceptional by the South African government. A person who has such skills and/or qualifications can apply for a Critical Skills Work Visa. In order to obtain this visa, the applicant does not have to secure a specific position of employment at the time of application.
The legislation specifies what skills qualify as ‘critical’ via the DHA’s critical skills list, but a relevant South African authority or organisation (for example, SAQA) needs to confirm the applicant’s skills and/or qualifications in writing, so as to ensure the applicant falls within the critical field of work. Occasionally a letter from the relevant professional body is also required. If you have a doctorate in a specific field and have published articles and/or are considered an expert in a field, this can aid your application. See the full list of conditions for the Critical Skills Work Visa.
The Critical Skills Work Visa is valid for a maximum period of five years, and extensions are possible. However, as shown below, permanent residence is achievable immediately after earning the Critical Skills Work Visa.
Intra-company transfer visa (ICT)
In today’s globalised world people who work in multinational companies are commonly transferred between countries. Where a person has been transferred into South Africa, they need to apply for the Intra-Company Transfer visa. Any applicant must have first worked for a minimum of six months in the company’s foreign office before applying to relocate and immigrate to the South African branch.
Under the new immigration law, this visa is issued for a period of four years and is not extendable. Should an applicant hold an ICT visa valid for two years (issued under the old act), then the applicant may apply for an extension of a further two years. However, those years do not count towards realising a permanent residence permit for South Africa.
Depending on whether you are being transferred or merely seconded to your company’s branch, you’ll need either a work visa or a business visa. If you are being transferred temporarily to a South African branch or affiliate and will be reported directly to, and on the payroll of, the local branch, then you will need a work visa. If, however, your company is seconding you to a South African branch or affiliate for a specific purpose and period – and you will still report directly to, and be on the payroll of, the parent company abroad – then you will not need a work visa. Instead, you should apply abroad for a business visa.
A Corporate Visa is not issued to an individual but to an employing company, and allows that company to employ a number of foreign workers during a certain time period. Workers will be employed on Individual Corporate Worker Certificates. This type of visa is incredibly advantageous to a company as it allows the firm to employ foreigners much faster and at a discounted fee to the DHA.
If you plan to move to South Africa to open a business or invest in an existing business, you must apply for a Business Visa. Applicants are required to invest substantial capital and show a business plan.
All business visa applicants must apply for a letter of recommendation from the Department of Trade and Industry regarding the feasibility of their business and the contribution of the business to the national interest of South Africa.
Additionally, it must be shown that:
- the business’s work force comprises at least 60 percent of South African employees;
- the proposed business is not deemed to be ‘undesirable’ in nature;
- the business has the highest chance of success by way of a detailed business plan;
- the business is compliant with existing South African company law.
Among other requirements, the DHA states you must submit the Form BI-1738, plus a certificate issued by a chartered accountant registered with the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants to the effect that you have a capital contribution and/or cash to the value of at least ZAR 5.0mn that has originated from outside South Africa.
Certain businesses can have this amount reduced with a waiver should they be deemed beneficial to the country, for example, information and communication technology, clothing and textile manufacturing, chemicals and bio-technology, agro-processing, metals and minerals refinement, automotive manufacturing and tourism, among others.
If you only plan on staying in the country on a short-term basis to set up your business you should apply for a work visa; if you expect a long-term endeavor, you might consider applying for permanent residence permit (see below).
Read more on the Department of Home Affairs’ (DHA) website.
Permanent residence permit in South Africa
It is possible to apply for permanent residence on the basis of holding a work visa. Anyone who has held a General Work Visa for a period of five years may apply for a Permanent Residence permit, while holders of a Critical Skills Work Visa may apply immediately if they have five years of experience in their field of expertise.
For critical skills applicants, it is a big advantage to be in possession of a permanent employment contract, or an offer of permanent employment, at the time of application.
Permit residence applications are processed by the Department of Home Affairs’ (DHA) head office.
Where to apply for a South African work visa
Any foreigner who wants to enter South Africa must apply for the appropriate visa at:
- the South African embassy, consulate or diplomatic representative in their country of residence or citizenship;
- at a South African diplomatic representative in an adjoining or nearby foreign country if none is available in your country of residence;
- at your nearest Visa Facilitation Centre (VFS), if in South Africa.
You can collect the necessary forms from the appropriate authority in your country, or access application forms online via the VFS.
Applications for residence visas are processed and finalised by the foreign offices of the Department of Home Affairs. Arrangements to travel to South Africa must only be made once your temporary residence visa has been issued.
Among other requirements, depending on the type of visa, you might be asked to provide:
- a passport with at least one month validity after your intended return trip;
- proof of your employment situation in South Africa;
- vaccination or medical reports;
- your qualifications – translated and evaluated by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), if necessary.
See the full list of South African residence visas and conditions on the DHA’s website.
Note that under the above work visas, you are not allowed to change employer. If you do wish to change employer, you can contact the Visa Facilitation Centre (VFS) or the nearest Department of Home Affairs office for information; your application will be subject to all the requirements of your original application.
South African visas for relatives
If you obtain a work visa for South Africa or a permanent residence permit, your spouse and children can also receive residence visas once they meet the set requirements. They may also wish to apply for work or study visas themselves, either before moving or once they are in South Africa.
To apply, you will need to show proof of your relationship (marriage or birth certificates) and evidence of your partner’s residence status in South Africa. Read more in Expatica’s complete guide to South African visas and permits.
Extension of visa duration
You should start your application for an extension of your visa at least 90 days prior to the expiry date, which can be made at any Visa Facilitation Centre (VFS) office in South Africa; you can complete the application form online. There is a fee payable when applying for an extension of a temporary residence visa – the fee for an extension is the same as for the original application.
Finding a job in South Africa
For those looking to obtain a work visa in South Africa, it is advised to visit and attend several interviews in South Africa before immigrating. Although an extra expense, it can provide several advantages. Read more in Expatica’s guide to finding a job in South Africa.
Work visas are not as complex as they seem, but this is not realised by all companies. If one has a prospective job offer and is stuck on visa issues, an immigration consultant or lawyer can call or meet with them to allay any fears a company may have. Some companies may focus on the short-term, wanting only to employ someone who can start within one month’s time or who they can meet immediately. It’s important to be patient when dealing with a possible employer and explain the details of one’s proposed visa.
For companies looking for skills and considering employing foreigners, the option is definitely available in the right circumstances. These include not being able to find a suitable South African incumbent for the position or requiring a critical skill not readily present in South Africa, or simply requiring someone from a foreign office or branch of a multi-national firm.
South Africa has changed a number of laws around the work visa options and while the process is still somewhat arduous, there is now a definite possibility of hiring a foreigner should a company wish to do so.