With SONA having taken place last week, optimism should be the overall feeling in South Africa (SA) going forward. However, tourism and immigration took up a tiny percentage of the speech, leaving immigration experts, foreign nationals and some locals unsure as to whether SA’s government wants to achieve its economic objectives at all. 

While President Rampahosa made it clear that critical skills and the SA e-visa system launch are priorities, both had already been announced during SONA in 2021. The new Critical Skills list has finally been released but certain waivers have been revoked, that could have worked as paths to economic recovery for SA. The e-visa system has been coming on for years, with the official deadline for launch set for March 2022. Our Kenya branch has tried numerous times to use the online system but practically, it has not worked for us yet. 

 The President also announced a launch of a Digital Nomad Visa for SA, something immigration experts working out of our country have requested, again, for years. This is an exciting prospect but we do hope the time to approval will be shorter than the rollout of the new Critical Skills List. 

Positives:

The Critical Skills List previously detailed around 170 roles, which has now been pared down to 101. New roles and descriptions in line with the OFO (Organising Framework for Occupations) have been added, providing legal clarity to immigration providers, corporations and mobility experts on qualification requirements for the Critical Skills Visa

Tech has gotten particular attention, with engineers, Multimedia Designers and data managers included. 

Negatives:

For certain roles, including the aforesaid engineers and data techs, the NQF requirement has been raised from level 7 to 8, creating a further barrier to entry for foreign nationals into the SA job market. Most foreign nationals coming to SA hold apprenticeships and other forms of qualification focusing on experience – experience that will not be taken into account when qualifying with SAQA. 

While this next point may be seen as a positive, the barrier caused allows it to fall under this heading. CV’s and job experience must be verified by outsourced service providers such as MIE going forward. This is another administrative hurdle that corporates, HR managers and independent applicants will have to take on. 

Foreign graduates studying at SA institutions now need five years of documented, verified work experience before qualifying for permanent residence. 

Furthermore, the previous one-year “job-seeker” Critical Skills Visa has been revoked. As Andreas mentions in this article by Luke Daniel for Business Insider: “This was very handy in attracting young, highly qualified people. Now they’ve done away with this. If [South Africa] is serious about attracting international talent, it needs to be attractive as an international comparison.” 

Investment in Critical Skills and skilled remote work has been proven to ballast the economies of countries where they are introduced. However, it is not enough that these visa options are available – our legislation needs to act to clear the path for skilled foreign nationals.

It’s optimistic that these points were mentioned, however, the current Permanent Residence Permit application backlog, ZEP withdrawal debacle and most recently, the removal of waivers that eased the path to permanent residence for foreign students clearly show that, in the immigration sphere, the government may be more talk and less action. 

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Compiled by: Lauren Daniels and Andreas Krensel