South Africa has always seen itself as being ahead of the curve in comparison with the rest of Africa. Our bustling economy is driven by technology and tourism and our amenities are on par with international standards (not exactly, thanks Eskom). However, while Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has announced plans to improve SA’s immigration processes, there are pertinent immigration issues affecting local South Africans and foreign nationals that could be immediately improved or repealed through directives or new visa policies. This is since the last published White Paper by the DHA on review on the South African immigration system. While drafting legislation takes time, there are countries around the world embracing innovative visa policies, allowing us the opportunity to learn by example. 

Introduce Digital Nomad Visas

Our CEO, Andreas Krensel, has proposed a Digital Nomad Visa in letters to the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and the SA Government. In this article, Krensel proposes that introducing such a visa in SA would hold many benefits for locals as well as foreign nationals. “The main benefit is that we will attract skilled foreigners who come here as visitors, fall in love with our country and decide to retire, invest or start a business later. I’ve advised highly qualified foreigners coming into SA who have been investing here for over 20 years, so I know how the typical story goes. The Digital Nomad Visa would be an ideal path to attract foreigners,” he stated.

Relocate. World lists 24 countries currently offering Digital Nomad Visas: Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Cabo Verde, Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Croatia, Curaçao, Czech Republic, Dominica, Estonia, Georgia, Iceland, Malta, Mexico, Montserrat, Norway, Portugal, Seychelles, and Taiwan. Germany’s Freelance Visa and Mauritius’ Premium Visa, while requirements vary slightly, fall into a similar category. 

SA shares many similarities with the countries listed above. Firstly, our country is breath-taking and, as Krensel mentions above, many foreigners come as visitors and want to stay for longer periods. Secondly, many of the countries listed above introduced these visas to combat ‘brain-drain’ and low birth rates. While SA’s birth rate is not the issue here, we are experiencing a shortage of engineering and software skills. Digital Nomad Visas allow the individual to work for their foreign company while living in SA and indirectly upskilling locals through networking. If SA decided to introduce a Tech Visa as France has done, direct upskilling and focused start-up investment could take place, resulting in SA tech workers with skills and knowledge on an international level.

Local sentiment toward foreign nationals in SA has taken an increasingly negative turn over time, with many South Africans fearing that introducing foreign skills means fewer job openings for South Africans.

IBN Immigration Solutions’ Senior Immigration Consultant Hannah Mminele disagrees with this concept.

 “… it is too simple to believe that foreign nationals coming into the country do harm to the employment opportunities for locals. A visa and immigration policy that promotes employment opportunities for locals should aim to do so through the creation of economic growth, by positioning South Africa as an internationally attractive investment destination, encouraging and supporting international corporations in increasing their operations in South Africa and by attracting financially independent persons and digital nomads to reside in South Africa and contribute to our economy. In my view, the aforementioned is achieved through a progressive and efficient visa and immigration policy, rather than a restrictive one.”

2. Improve Restrictive Spousal Visa Policies

Accompanying spouses of Critical Skills Visa (CSV) holders and ideally, Intra-Company Transfer Visa holders, or of foreigners who earn above a certain salary bracket, should be allowed to work, as long as the main applicant is working legally in South Africa.

A more personal and devastating immigration legislation issue is the lapse of the spousal visa if the marriage dissolves.

As Mminele explains, “There is one big gap in the current legislative system when it comes to spouses of South African nationals who have had children with a South African. The gap occurs if the marriage or relationship breaks down before the non-South African parent has been able to obtain an independent right of permanent residence, and given the delays in processing permanent residence applications, an independent right of permanent residence can currently be obtained earliest after 10 years of being in a relationship or being married. In this case, the Immigration Act currently requires the non-South African parent to apply for a regular work visa, if they want to work in South Africa to support themselves and their child – which most persons will need to do – and sometimes there is no available work visa option. These limited rights for the parent of a South African child are unfortunately contradictory to an Immigration Act that, otherwise, very much embraces ubuntu and a family-centric societal model when it comes to the definition of spouses and eligibility for relative visas.”

3. Lower Investment Thresholds Mean More FDI

SA needs to lower its current Business Visa investment threshold from 5 million ZAR (into a company’s book value). On application, this amount can be reduced but this adds an additional hurdle. Other countries with similar investment visas hold the following thresholds: the United Arab Emirates – 500 000 AED (2 million ZAR), Singapore – 100 000 SD (1 million ZAR), Kenya – 100 000 USD ( 1 691 374,00 ZAR) and Namibia at approximately 2 million ZAR.

As Mminele explains, “Many of the industries that will be globally and locally relevant in the future, most importantly Technology Solutions and Innovation, have no direct business need for a large investment of R5 million to start up the business in South Africa. Lowering the investment threshold can therefore increase South Africa’s attractiveness and feasibility as a start-up destination for industries that are and will be essential players in the fourth industrial revolution. Local South African can benefit by being placed at the forefront of global technology and innovation developments through employment and partnerships with the relevant start-ups and companies being established in South Africa.”

While the issues listed above may take time to resolve, they are tangible solutions that will lead to long-term benefits for both local South Africans and foreign nationals looking to explore and contribute to our country’s economic and technological potential.

Written by: Lauren Daniels 

Interviewee: Hannah Mminele

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