In times of travel restrictions and lockdowns - what you need to know & FAQ's on South African Visas & Immigration
Dear Clients, Partners and Friends,
In South Africa, we’re currently ending the first, strict lockdown period that started on 27 March and was extended once. As of Friday, 1 May, we are faced with “Level 4” lockdown regulations, which are only marginally less restrictive than the previous “hard” lockdown rules. The pressure is mounting for a feasible balance between economic recovery and public health to be found. Some European countries are finding controlled ways to ease their limitations as critics of drastic restrictions to the economy and personal freedoms are getting louder.
Wherever in the world you are, most of you will have spent the last weeks and months adjusting to the “new normal” of uncertainty as the only constant, to the ever-changing rules and circumstances and their impact on yourself and others around you, to the flood of often contradictory information and opinions, and to some degree of anxiety regarding the future.
For some, visa and permit questions have been burning during this time. Others may have completely put them aside and are now worried that they have missed important deadlines or opportunities. Whatever your situation, we have compiled some questions and answers for you to inform you and put your mind at ease as much as we can. If we have left any of your questions unanswered, or if you need case-specific advice and support, please reach out to us via the contact details at the bottom of this email. The IMCOSA team is available and ready to assist as always. Also make sure to keep checking our website (www.imcosa.co.za/news) or LinkedIn profile for the latest updates.
Stay safe and healthy, best wishes for now
Nothing in this article should be construed as constituting legal advice or a legal opinion. An expert should be consulted for advice based on the facts and circumstances of each application or case. Even though great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information provided, IMCOSA does not accept any responsibility for consequences of decisions taken based on any part thereof. Our IMCOSA consultants will gladly advise you in detail and relevant to your individual situation.
EMPLOYERS OF NON–SOUTH AFRICAN STAFF
As a company, what do we do if our employees’ visas expire during the lockdown?
As per the Minister’s exemption, no-one whose visa has expired during or shortly before the lockdown will be penalized. The application for extension can be made as soon as lockdown regulations allow and relevant government offices and service providers are open. We expect a big rush for applications, so it will be wise to start preparations now and secure application appointments as soon as they open.
We are hit by lockdown measures and need to retrench staff. How do we handle visa holders?
As soon as employment is terminated, the authorities need to be informed (we’ll be glad to assist) and the visa will be cancelled. The staff member has to return home as soon as travel restrictions are lifted, and it will take a full new work visa application from his or her home country before they can be re-employed. An alternative to retrenchment can be placing non-South African staff on unpaid leave (labour law permitting in individual cases).
We have recruited staff overseas who are waiting for their visas. When can we expect them to start working?
At this stage, all South African missions abroad are closed save for emergency services. No new applications can be made, and applications already made before closure will be responded to after re-opening. We are hoping that applications will be assessed case-by-case for merit and relevance beyond travel restrictions. The official announcements of March 2020 regarding applications having been denied referred to port-of-entry visitor’s visas. IMCOSA is in close contact with relevant authorities and will advise on developments as they occur.
We have in the past not had the chance to fully get on top of our staff’s visa situations and are worried about risks. Is there anything we can we do during lockdown?
It may be a good time for a full internal audit of your staff’s immigration and visa status, provided that you can access relevant information and data (for assistance with an audit, please get in touch with us). You would come out of the lockdown with the certainty that your visa matters are fully in order, or a clear plan on how to get there.
We have recruited locally and applied for the visa or extension, but our candidate did not receive the result before lockdown. Can they work in the meantime?
Yes, they can. As per Ministerial directive, applicants waiting for a result may (continue to) work until it is received.
When will Home Affairs and VFS open their offices again?
We are waiting for confirmation here. Although Level 4 allows for “permitting offices” to open, according to current information this does not include immigration.
FOREIGNERS IN SOUTH AFRICA
I arrived in South Africa as a tourist and cannot leave due to lockdown. Do I need to extend my visa, and how do I go about it?
If you leave South Africa straight after the lockdown, you do not have to apply for an extension of your visa first, even if it has expired just before or during the lockdown. NOTE: It is not clear how soon after the end of lockdown you must leave the country in order not to be penalised. We recommend applying for an extension after lockdown in order to avoid problems and keep options open. This can be prepared now already (for assistance please get in touch with us as per the below details).
If you want to stay in South Africa a little longer, and even if your visa has expired after 15 February 2020, you can apply for an extension immediately after the end of lockdown.
When and how can I return home?
Outside of official repatriation schemes arranged by foreign states, no foreigners may leave South Africa during lockdown. Please contact your country’s mission in South Africa, or its foreign office at home, for further information.
I have a long-term visa for South Africa that will expire some time this year. Can I already start my application for extension or for permanent residence?
Absolutely. Being forced to be at home may be the best opportunity to take time for gathering and collating documents for your application. Most third parties that may need to give input are operational through home offices. The IMCOSA team will be glad to be of service.
I hold a work visa, but due to Covid-19 I was / may be retrenched. What are my options?
If your employment is terminated, your employer is obliged to notify Home Affairs. Your visa will be cancelled as soon as officials are back at work and have caught up with the backlog of work to be expected after this period. Your options are to a) leave the country as soon as possible after lockdown (no further action needed), or b) to apply for another long-term visa as soon as offices open up for applications. The lockdown period can be used for an assessment of your visa options and for preparing the application. The IMCOSA team can help you with that.
My long-term visa expired / is about to expire during lockdown. What do I do?
As per the Minister’s exemption, no-one whose visa has expired during or shortly before the lockdown will be penalized. The application for extension can be made as soon as lockdown regulations allow and relevant government offices and service providers are open. We expect a big rush for applications, so it will be wise to start preparations now and secure application appointments as soon as they open (Click here for assistance).
I applied for a visa / for permanent residence before lockdown and have not heard anything yet. What can and must I do?
Since the beginning of the lockdown, Home Affairs and VFS offices have been closed for visa and permit processes. We expect processing to continue as soon as these divisions are allowed to operate again. At this point in time, there is no need for action on your part. If your latest visa has expired in the meantime or is about to expire, you may continue with your activity (work, running a business etc) until such time that you receive the outcome. For permanent residence applications, we expect additional delays in processing times due to the interruption of service and the building up of backlogs. For assistance with following up on pending applications, you may contact us as per the below details.
When will Home Affairs and VFS open their offices again?
We are waiting for confirmation here. Although Level 4 allows for “permitting offices” to open, it is not yet clear whether immigration falls under such a definition.
PLANNING TO VISIT OR COME LIVE IN SOUTH AFRICA?
I was planning to visit South Africa later in 2020. Will I still be able to do that?
As soon as travel restrictions are lifted both in your country and in South Africa, you will be able to visit South Africa and enjoy its beauty again. South Africa’s tourism industry forms an important part of our economy, and we expect the country to open its arms to tourists as soon as possible without putting South Africans or visitors at risk.
I am from Germany / the US / the UK / Spain / Italy / France / Portugal / Switzerland / Hong Kong / South Korea / Singapore, and visit South Africa regularly for up to 3 months as a tourist. Will I still be able to do this?
The visa exemption for your country was withdrawn on 25 March due to Covid-19. This means that, if travel restrictions are lifted, you will have to apply for a visa before coming to South Africa. We expect these rules to be reviewed around the time when international travel is opened up again, and for alternative ways to be found to check travelers for possible infections with the virus. IMCOSA will keep you updated on developments here.
I was planning to move to South Africa to work / run a business / study / retire / live there with my South African partner. Can I still expect to be able to do that?
In principle, absolutely. Whilst the timing of your move will depend on international travel being opened up and on South Africa’s missions in your country being opened up again to process your application, being forced to be at home may be the best opportunity to take time for gathering and collating the necessary documents for it. The IMCOSA team will be glad to be of service as per the details below. Seeing that certain documents expire after some time, we recommend that you take expert advice on what to prepare now, and what to leave for later.
SA CITIZENS AND PERMANENT RESIDENTS ABROAD
I am a South African citizen / permanent resident / long-term visa holder outside the country. When and how can I come back?
South Africans are allowed to return to South Africa and may be quarantined on arrival. According to reports, the same applies to permanent residents and persons with valid long-term visas for South Africa. Repatriation flights are being organized by the South African government in co-operation with their counterparts in other countries. You can contact the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (www.dirco.gov.za) and join online groups of South Africans near you. Note that you will have to pay for the ticket and be available to leave at short notice.
CONTACT DETAILS DURING LOCKDOWN
Existing clients, please be in touch with your client managers via email as usual.
For urgent telephonic assistance, kindly call 082 356 2783. Callers from overseas to use the international code of 0027.
Note that IMCOSA remains open for business and our complete staff is at your disposal and working remotely during the usual office hours. The physical offices in Cape Town and Gauteng may also open up again next week, please keep an eye on our website's news section for further information in that regard.