South Africa is considered the commercial hub and gateway to the rest of Africa. As such, the government wants to utilise this advantage for foreign companies expanding into the country and foreign investors. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is considered the engine to power economic recovery and resurgence post-pandemic. The AfCFTA – the African Continental Free Trade Area – founded in 2018, provides a mutually beneficial environment for its members through trade and investment without tariffs or red tape and is expected to boost revenues in the area by US$450 billion, increasing exports and manufacturing by US$560 billion by 2035, growing jobs and raising income.

South Africa is renowned for tourism hotspots, from its many game reserves and National Parks to World Heritage sites such as Tabletop Mountain. The beaches are famous for windsurfing, and the warm Indian Ocean waters attract millions of tourists yearly. The government is aware of lousy recruitment practices in the country, which leave many employees working illegally, so employers should take care as the onus for compliance lies with them. Many companies use the expertise of a Professional Employer Organisation (PEO), such as Bradford Jacobs, who has 20 years of experience with recruitment and work documentation, moving on to their Employer of Record (EOR) services dealing with everything from visas to paycheck. 

The different types of Visas and Work Permits for South Africa

Foreigners (not visa-exempt) wanting to travel to South Africa for less than 90 days have around 12 categories of Visitor Visas to choose between, from tourism to sporting events and from business trips to conferences. They can be extended for a further three months. But this is not guaranteed, so applicants should consider if they can qualify for the Long-Term Visa before they travel to South Africa as they cannot apply for it while on a Visitor Visa, although there are exceptions.

There are Long-Term Visitor Visas in several qualifying categories for stays longer than three months. Categories include Study, Work, Treaty, Business, Relatives, Medical Treatment, Retirement, and Exchange permit.

Types of Temporary Work Visas (previously known as Work Permits)

Four types of Visas are available to those looking for employment in South Africa, and each has requirements and eligibility, so employees and employers must decide which one applies. These are also the equivalent of Temporary Residence Visas.

  • General Work Visa (GWV)
  • Critical Skills Work Visa (CSWV)
  • Intra-company Transfer Work Visa (ICT)
  • Corporate Visa

Note: The salaries and benefits offered to foreign workers should not be inferior to those of South African citizens and residents with similar jobs. Also, beware of employing illegal workers or bad recruitment practices, which the government is aware of and trying to deter. The onus is on the employer in the eyes of the law.

General Work Visa (GWV)

  1. The application for the work visa is submitted to an embassy/consulate/authorised visa centre in the home country.
  2. This is the usual work visa for companies employing staff from abroad or from their home country. However, conditions include that the job vacancies are made available to South African locals and residents before being offered to foreigners. Therefore, vacancies must be advertised locally and checked by the Department of Employment and Labour (DEL).
  3. The South African Qualifications Authority checks the employee’s qualifications (SAQA).
  4. The Department of Home Affairs grants and issues work visas. Employees must have an employment contract to determine how long the Work Visa is issued, which can be up to five years. However, employees are advised not to confirm travel arrangements until the work visa has been approved.
  5. Companies wanting to employ foreigners in South Africa must be legally incorporated and registered.
  6. The work visa process can take 8-16 weeks, depending on whether the employer is registered to sponsor foreign workers.
  7. Salaries have to equal those of local citizens doing the same job and holding the same position.
  8. A clean police record is required from each country where the applicant has resided for more than 12 months since 18.
  9. Proof of good health, e.g., medical report; an X-ray may be required.

Critical Skills Work Visa (CSWV)

  1. Applied for from abroad through the consulates/embassies or authorised Visa Centres.
  2. A critical skills list is published by the Department of Home Affairs of occupations where skills are in ‘short supply. The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) decides on high-demand skills. Employers are allowed to hire foreigners to fill these positions.
  3. Eligibility relies on having the appropriate qualifications for the position.
  4. The Visa is valid for up to five years.
  5. A job offer and employment contract are required to apply for this Visa since a new Directive (No.1) from the Director-General Department of Home Affairs in 2022.
  6. The process for the Visa can take up to 40 days; however, when qualifications have to be verified, it can take much longer.
  7. Foreigners already in South Africa can apply for the CSV provided they do not have a Visitor Visa or Medical Visa, but they require a job offer and employment contract to do so.
  8. One eligibility criterion is that the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) checks the employee’s qualifications. They also need to meet NQF levels for the position.
  9. If there is a professional qualification involved with the job position, this has to be verified by the relevant authority. Applicants can find a list of professional bodies on the SAQA website.

Intra-company Transfer (ICT)

  1. This Visa sought after by companies bringing their staff from their home company is valid for four years but cannot be renewed or extended. They can apply for a new ICT Visa or choose a different route into the country.
  2. There are eligibility issues, e.g., being employed by the parent company for at least six months; they must be paid overseas; report to their parent company.
  3. When seconding an employee, employers must implement a ‘Skills Transfer Plan’ to transfer those skills to a South African worker.
  4. Applicants who the South African subsidiary will pay must instead apply for the General Work Visa.
  5. This Visa can be applied for through the authorised Visa Center (VFS Global).
  6. Medical and police reports are needed, plus sufficient funds to return home, i.e., a return ticket.

Corporate Visa

  1. Allows companies to pre-order visas they need for workers in the skilled/semi-skilled and unskilled sectors. These are applied for through embassies/consulates or VFS Centres abroad.
  2. The company completes application forms that the prospective employees have signed.
  3. The company has to go through several procedures and eligibility checks.
  4. Upon approval, the company receives a corporate visa, and the employees apply for corporate workers’ visas in line with the employer’s corporate Visa for three years. Check out the following links regarding eligibility, the process, disadvantages, and advantages for companies.

Independent Financial Permit

For people wanting to live permanently in South Africa and set up a business. This permit allows applications for permanent residency without delay and will enable applicants to study, live, work and manage their own companies in the country. There are certain conditions and eligibility issues to be met.

Note:  The Draft Bill for National Labor Migration Policy and Employment Services Amendment.

Legislation in early 2022 gave authorities the power to apply and determine QUOTAS for the employment of foreigners in specific sectors or occupations – nationally or regionally. Employees must be vigilant when or if it is brought into force.

How to apply for Visas and Work Permits for South Africa?

First, employees and employers work together to determine which Work Visa is required. They produce the required documentation, and the employer confirms they are eligible to employ staff or operate in South Africa. The law surrounding immigration and work documentation is closing loopholes and may change intermittently. Both parties should be aware of how this affects their obligations.

Generally, the documentation is similar for all Work Visas:

  • General Work Visa (GWV)
  • Critical Skills Work Visa (CSWV)
  • Intra-company Transfer (ITC) Visa
  • Corporate Visa

Note: When a Work Visa is applied for through an employer who issues the employment contract, changing the employer requires a new visa application.

General documentation required for Work Visas

All submitted documents should be translated into an official language, notarized, and affirmed by an authorised translator.

  • Application form for the appropriate Visa – completed and signed.
  • A passport with 30 days validity beyond the Visa’s expiry.
  • Proof of funds to cover the duration of the stay until receiving a paycheck.
  • Medical reports, which may include an X-ray.
  • A police report from any country applicant who has lived for longer than 12 months in South Africa since 18 years old.
  • Vaccination certificate as applicable.
  • The fee to cover the Visa application and processing.
  • Approval of qualifications through the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).
  • Employment contract signed by the employee and the employer.
  • A letter from the employer agreeing to pay for the deportation or repatriation of the employee and family if necessary.
  • Any company documentation from the employer to prove legal in South Africa, such as a company registration certificate.
  • All paperwork regarding any dependents joining the applicant.

For the General Work Visa – additional

  • Certificate from the Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) confirming the employer advertised the job position in the local market and the approval of the employee’s documents and qualifications for the contracted job offer.
  • Employer agrees to inform the Director-General of DEL of changes in employee’s role or if they leave.

For Critical Skills Work Visa (CSWV) – additional

  • Approval by an ‘accredited professional body’ regarding qualifications such as a doctorate is required for the job. This can be found on the SAQA website.

Intra-company Transfer Visa – additional

A letter from the employer in South Africa stipulates the employee’s duties and length of employment up to a maximum of four years. It confirms the transfer from the home company to the affiliate or subsidiary in South Africa. The applicants are still on contract with the home company, are paid by them and report to them.


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