South Africa revamps work visas to tackle skills crisis and investor woes

South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, has signed proposed changes to work permit regulations to address bureaucratic hurdles frustrating investors and intensifying a skills crisis. The changes, set to be gazetted soon, may introduce a remote worker visa category. With only 25,298 skilled work permit visas approved from 2014 to 2021, industry bodies, including the Southern African-German Chamber of Commerce, warn of halted expansions and potential job losses. The reforms, including a points-based system, aim to streamline the process, as delays threaten South Africa’s competitiveness against quicker visa procedures in Kenya and Nigeria.

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South Africa Takes a Major Step Toward Fixing Work Visa Mess

By Antony Sguazzin

South Africa’s home affairs minister signed planned changes to work permit regulations aimed at fixing a bureaucratic morass that’s frustrating the country’s biggest investors and exacerbating a skills crisis, people familiar with the situation said. 

Now that the changes have been signed by Aaron Motsoaledi, they’ll be gazetted in the coming days and released for public comment, the people said, asking not to be identified as the decision hasn’t been made public. The changes may include a range of measures suggested by a government study including the creation of a remote worker visa category.

Companies operating in South Africa struggle to find skilled workers, a result of a dysfunctional education system and exacerbated by emigration. That, they said, is hindering growth and exacerbating unemployment as skilled workers create jobs for those with fewer qualifications.

Still, between 2014 and 2021 only 25,298 skilled work permit visas were approved, according to a report prepared for the presidency. More than half of applications were rejected on grounds including errors in the complex application process and the inability of the Home Affairs Department to process them.

The department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Industry bodies including the Southern African-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which represents owners of factories in the country including Volkswagen AG and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, have warned the skills shortage may halt their members’ expansion plans and threaten 100,000 jobs. 

A chamber representing European Union companies operating in South Africa collated complaints that showed that some companies are considering moving their African headquarters to other countries on the continent because of their frustration. 

Eight recommendations in the study, which was released by the presidency in April, include a points-based system, where applicants who meet a minimum education and salary level would be granted work permits. It’s unclear whether all or some of them will be included in the changes.

While processing a work visa in South Africa can take 48 weeks or more, the process in Kenya is a maximum of 12 weeks and just eight weeks in Nigeria, the authors of the report wrote. 

Thirty days will be allowed for public comment before the changes can be passed into law.

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