South African farmers who operate their businesses close to the country’s borders with neighbours such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho, where sources of labour including semi-skilled workers abound, can apply for a bulk visa to import labour when required.
“It is crucial that farmers who want to apply to the Department of Home Affairs (“DHA”) and the Department of Labour (“DOL”) for a Corporate Visa, can prove that they first sought out unemployed South Africans for the positions”, Marisa Jacobs, Director of Xpatweb advises.
Bulk approval to import skills
The DHA’s Corporate Visa allows farmers to obtain bulk approval for groups of between 50 and 1,000 labourers or more to enter and work in South Africa for a period of up to three years at a time after which a renewal is required. Once this visa has been approved, workers are issued with a certificate which allows them, on presentation, to have their passports endorsed with the relevant corporate visa.
“The farmer may only need the workers on a seasonal basis but the three year validity of this visa ensures that they do not have to reapply every season when the labourers are needed on the farm,” Jacobs explains.
The visa is particularly useful for the agricultural sector, which often struggle to find local labour to fill temporary posts as seasonal workers, as many people may take the job for a month or two but then resign for personal reasons, or at times because they have found a more permanent position elsewhere.
Neighbouring country’s labour pool
There are generally large communities of people living outside towns in neighbouring countries who are seeking seasonal jobs on farms. This visa allows the farmer to apply and bring them to SA to fill specific posts of pickers, packers and sorters, for example, using a single bulk visa application. The labourers themselves do not have to worry about the application as it is entirely handled by the farms’ human resources department, which will usually outsource the process to a reputable immigration specialist with experience in the process.
Farmers have historically handled the visa application in-house, but in recent years many have opted to outsource it to a specialist to ensure a smooth and swift process.
“It is a cumbersome process, so farmers prefer to focus on their core business and to leave a specialist to handle the paperwork, which involves liaising with both the Department of Labour and the Department of Home Affairs,” Jacobs says.
As part of the process, the DOL will inspect the farm to ensure that the business is compliant with labour laws and minimum wage requirements, to ensure there is no exploitation or attempt to attract cheap labour. The DOL will also require evidence from the farmer that there has been an attempt to seek out and employ local labourers, before turning to neighbouring countries as well as an ongoing attempt to increase their local labour count.
Apply now to avoid delays
The Corporate Visa takes as long as four to six months to obtain, from initial submission of the paper work to approval. It is advisable to consult an immigration specialist in advance to obtain the best advice and practical assistance regarding filing an application.
“This is a very attractive visa because it helps farmers solve their labour shortage challenges with one application and it provides peace of mind that they are compliant for at least three years. The visa is renewable after three years so if the farm has grown, and there is still no local labour available, or the business has expanded and still needs the workers to complement its local workforce, the departments will assess the situation and renew the visa,” Jacobs concludes.