Work Visa for South Africa

This page contains information on South African work visas for individuals. Should you represent a business requiring work visas for two or more foreign employees in South Africa, please review our corporate services section or contact us for more information.

Definition of Work

Since the legislative amendments of May 2014, “work” is defined to include “conducting any activity normally associated with the running of a specific business, or being employed or conducting activities consistent with the profession of the person, with or without remuneration or reward”. This means that any such activity requires the appropriate South African work visa in order to be conducted legally in the country.

Persons wishing to seek or take up employment in South Africa require a formal work visa. There is a choice of various categories of work authorisations and visas, which is to be made according to the type and duration of the post as well as to the applicant’s qualifications and/or experience.

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Short-term Authorisation to Work

The wide definition of “work” includes many activities which one might assume to be able to conduct while being in possession of an ordinary visitor’s visa. This applies to short-term project work, unpaid internships or seasonal work in the hospitality or film industries for example. In these cases a so-called “authorisation to work” may be obtained, which is linked to a visitor’s visa and far less onerous to obtain than the formal work visa.

Critical Skills Visa

This visa type was introduced in May 2014 and has replaced both the “quota work permit” and the “exceptional skills permit”. It is available to persons with qualifications and/or skills and experience in specific industries and fields. An extensive list of “Critical Skills” has been published by the government and contains pages of professions and fields together with the way in which an applicant needs to prove that he or she falls under them. Typically, there is a requirement for a letter from the relevant professional body, council or board, or from a relevant government body, confirming the qualifications / skills / number of years of experience in a particular category. If required by law, registration with such body, council or board is required. Due to the practical difficulties of registering with and obtaining such letters from most professional bodies, the Department of Home Affairs currently allows for some leeway and grants a 12-month window for providing these documents. Further, the applicant’s qualifications need to be evaluated by the South African evaluation authorities (SAQA Evaluation), which can be time-consuming and costly. After complying with all applicable requirements, this visa should be employer-independent (i.e. its holder can change employers without having to make an application to have the visa changed; in practice, it may not be easy to effect this) and issued for up to 5 years.

IMCOSA will gladly advise you in detail regarding the requirements and handle all necessary procedural steps on your behalf. Contact us if you wish to find out whether you qualify for a critical skills visa.

Secondment / Intra-Company Transfer Visa

In the case of secondments or transfers of employees between branches, related or affiliated companies, a so-called “intra-company transfer visa” may be applied for. The requirements for this type of visa are considerably lower and the process around it is less onerous than in the other work visa categories, but the visa is restricted to a period of 4 years (previously 2 years) and not renewable. Thorough proof of the affiliation between companies or branches and of the secondee’s employment relationship with the seconding company over at least 6 months are required. 

General Work Visa

The most commonly known work visa type is the so-called “general work visa”. Here, the prospective employer needs to motivate his need for the foreign applicant’s specific qualifications, skills or experience and to submit proof of his efforts to recruit a local candidate (amongst other things by way of an advertisement of the position in a specific format). Further, the applicant’s qualifications need to be evaluated by the South African evaluation authorities (SAQA Evaluation), which can be time-consuming and costly. Through the amendments of May 2014, the (now no longer optional) requirement of a recommendation by the Department of Labour was introduced. Obtaining such recommendation requires a number of processes by the prospective employer and may be time-consuming, and thus the lead times for general work visas have increased substantially. IMCOSA will guide employers safely through this process.

Corporate Worker Certificate

Persons wishing to take up employment with an organisation that is in possession of a corporate visa may apply for a “corporate worker certificate”. The requirements are fairly basic in comparison to most other work visa categories, but have become more onerous through the law amendments of May 2014.

Spouses or Life Partners of South Africans

Spouses or life partners (opposite or same sex) of South African citizens or residents, who are supported by their partners, may obtain a work authorisation without having to meet the onerous requirements of the formal work visas. Let us know if you wish to find out more about this category.

Voluntary or Charitable Activity

Persons wishing to take up charitable or voluntary activities in South Africa (typically with a non-profit, religious or other charitable organisation) can obtain an extended visitor’s visa for a period of up to 3 years, which authorises them to conduct this type of work. It seems to be within the nature and general definition of such activities that they may not be remunerated, or else a work visa would be required.

Specific Work Under Lighter Requirements

Since May 2014, certain activities can be pursued on the basis of an “extended visitor’s visa” for up to 3 years, which is significantly less onerous in its requirements. The activities include: teaching at international schools, work in the film industry, seconded journalists, visiting professors or lecturers, artists, entertainers and tour leaders.

Please contact us for detailed requirements.

Permanent Residence - Work

In some of the above-mentioned cases the applicant may also qualify for permanent residence. It may be granted if the applicant has been in possession of a work visa for at least 5 years and been made an offer of permanent employment. Work authorisations issued to spouses or life partners of South Africans do not count as “work visas” for this purpose.

In another permit category, permanent residence is open to persons who fall within certain professional categories (critical skills). 

Voluntary or charitable activities, or any of the activities pursued under an extended visitor’s visa, do not lead to a permanent residence permit.