Marisa Jacobs, director and head of immigration and mobility at Xpatweb, unpacks what’s required to obtain a work visa for a foreign skilled employee.

In truth, it’s extremely easy if you know what you need and how to go about it, but near impossible if you are inexperienced and make school boy errors.

Here are some expert tips to help:

Don’t lie

When an employee comes to render employment services in South Africa, make sure they get a valid short-term work visa. Do not take a chance and tell the immigration official this is only a business trip, when the purpose is work. It is easy to be compliant and not worth the risk. The process takes ten working days and the short-term visa is issued for three months, while it may be extended in South Africa for a further three months.

New foreign boss? Don’t stress

Getting a new boss from overseas is stressful enough, let alone making them think you are not competent in sorting out their work permit status and the family’s residency permits. Luckily, the intra-company transfer work visa is one of the quickest and cleanest visas to obtain. Just make sure you understand the rules and requirements upfront as one piece of incorrect guidance or supporting document, can put you back to square one. These take two months to obtain, end-to-end and where done effectively.

When you need that critical and rare skilled employee

What do you do when your business family just do not have an important skill that you need? There are some in the market, but they are rare and you just do not have the budget to attract and retain them?

The critical skill work visa route is a real game changer, mostly misunderstood and provides a brilliant and certain means to building a superior work force. You will be surprised to know the comprehensiveness of the qualifying skills. We have always been able to find a suitable category for a genuinely scarce skill in South Africa.

This category is also very attractive for the employer and expatriate. The employer gains a competitive edge on attraction and retention, as the visa is issued for the employer; whilst this category gives the expatriate the right to qualify in time for permanent residency in South Africa. One can rightly call this a win-win.

Do not make this crucial mistake

Stay away from the general work permit categories, except where you have a very large expatriate programme. This category has been made subject to an initial Department of Labour process, it has become virtually unobtainable. You will be promised an effective process, but after countless deadliness missed with impunity, you will still have no traction.

Waiving like a pro

The immigration laws of South Africa are very competently drafted legislation. This means that there are numerous special provisions which cater for situations which are unique and failsafe clauses, which gives discretion where you need help, but need something special for your organisation.

These include waiver provisions, which gives the department the right to waive certain legislative requirements.

Where you have a large project, or need to otherwise bring a large group of expatriates into South Africa, this is crucial for your expatriate programme.

Expatriate wellness

The work visa process should not be an isolated one. The same way that all aspects of your family needs looking after, the fiscal planning for an expatriate cannot be in isolation with the work visa process. This includes contracting correctly as expatriates have different terms and conditions of employment, expert tax planning including international tax planning, exchange control and banking planning; and even catering for their employee benefits, as normal South African benefit programmes are mostly too expensive for them and also seldom suitable.

As published by