How do I apply for a South African work permit

The prospect of moving to another country for work can be daunting, even if it only for a short while. A critical part of that process is to obtain the correct work visa. A common question asked is: How do I apply for a South African work permit?

Moeketsi Seboko, Immigration Manager at Xpatweb, says that when one applies for a South African work permit, the most cumbersome category to apply for in South Africa is the general work visa. One of the requirements is a certificate from the Department of Labour.

This certificate confirms that despite a diligent search, the prospective employer has been unable to find a suitable South African with qualifications or skills that is equivalent to the foreign applicant.

However, it is possible to apply directly to the Department of Home Affairs requesting that the requirement of the Department of Labour support certificate is waived. The applicant will have to make a compelling case as to why the skills of the expatriate candidate are superior to that of South African citizens.

Seboko says the other category when applying for a South African work permit is the Critical Skills work visa that is issued in accordance with the critical skills list. The revised  list is expected to be published in 2021 by the Department of Home Affairs. Xpatweb runs the annual Critical Skills survey among employers which is submitted to the Department as input on this list.

The intra-company transfer work visa is normally issued when a foreigner is on secondment to a branch, subsidiary, or affiliate of his foreign employer in SA.

Secondments are generally used to transfer skills to South Africans. The application will require a detailed skills transfer plan and the expected duration thereof.

Secondment visas vary in duration from four months to four years. All first-time work visa applications are submitted at South African embassies or high commissions in the country in which the applicant’s home country or country of residence.

Documentary requirements

The list of required documentation is published by the Department of Home Affairs. Seboko points out that a contract of employment, a letter from the employer setting out the obligations in terms of the Immigration Act, police clearance certificates from all the countries in which the applicant lived for more than a year since the age of 18, and medical records are critical documents when applying for any of the category of work visas in SA.

“Home Affairs advises that it adjudicates an application within 30 days of receiving an application. However, in our experience it can take longer where proactive steps are not taken to monitor turn-around times.” 

The costs

The next step is the question of: How much does a South African work permit cost? The Government application fee is R1,520 for all work visa categories. The cost of service providers who assist foreign nationals with compiling the application, giving advice and administrative support, as well as liaising with the different departments and officials varies depending on the category and professional time needed to compile such an application.

“It is important to solicit professional advice before you start with the application to ascertain your eligibility and qualifications for a specific work visa category,” advises Seboko.

“This will help to alleviate any potential rejections by the relevant department. While the Immigration Act stipulated required documentation, applications in practice need to be compiled correctly to meet the specific requirements of the various Embassies who each have their own criteria which they look at when adjudicating the merits of an application.

It is possible to submit an appeal to the Director General of Home Affairs to reverse an adverse decision. However, Seboko warns that this process can take anything between one month and six months and is often not possible due to the urgent need for projects or other mitigating factors.

Seboko reiterates “First-time correct applications are essential to ensure time is not unnecessarily wasted”.

The importance of professional assistance

Xpatweb has escalated appeal applications to the relevant decision makers overseeing such applications at the most senior level to ensure efficient service to applicants.  They have found that the applications were always attended to following the intervention.

In the case of urgent work visas, Xpatweb has in various instances assisted with fast-tracking applications. “We have made submissions to the department to expedite applications to ensure that projects or assignments are not interrupted or delayed.”

“Instances where delays have been unreasonable, the matters have been escalated”, says Seboko.

“We have never failed when we made a request. We are cognisant of the fact that not every application is urgent, and where there is urgency, we provide compelling reasons for expeditious action.”

Seboko concludes “Effective delivery of work visas is essential to continue attracting investment to SA as well as the very important role of SA as a gateway to Africa.”