South African (SA) business executives, artisans and professionals who travel to work on the rest of the African continent had a difficult enough time navigating the red tape to get work permits and visas approved before the Covid-19 Lockdown.

But since the outbreak of the Coronavirus and the recent resurgence of a high number of infections during the second wave in SA, many African countries have tightened up controls in their visa and work permit application processes for SA travellers.

Tough Regulations & Frequent Delays

So, while Africa is open for business and professionals are now able to travel to various countries since infections have now declined, there are still stringent application processes that must be followed to get the necessary approval for a trip, says Xpatweb Immigration specialist Zainab Bouziane.

Bouziane says for individuals and businesses seeking to apply independently for permits and visas to countries such as Mozambique, Angola, Kenya, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland and Tanzania, the bar has been raised higher due to local lockdowns as additional approvals are required from the SA government and many foreign offices are repeatedly shut for days when there is an outbreak of the virus in a government department.

“In the course of my work I deal with the whole of Africa, focusing on work, visa and permanent residency applications and what we are experiencing is long delays in terms of departments receiving applications because the minute there is an infection in a related department, half of the team goes into isolation and the other half works remotely. But remote working is not a thing on most of the continent as workers just treat it as a reason for a holiday,” Bouziane says.

Apart from Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which kept its offices open with limited resources available, industries had been hard hit in terms of delays in getting approval for staff to travel and work abroad.

“In Mozambique and Angola, the big oil had gas projects had to completely shut down for some time and then there were some concessions for contractors that have special permits and authority from the government to allow their people to get in on specula conditions, such as adhering to mask wearing, social distancing and limiting the number of employees on site at any given time,” she says.

Successfully Navigating the “Red Tape”

Bouziane cautions that businesses and employees seeking to navigate the visa and work permit application process, without the assistance of an immigration specialist, could expect long delays and limited feedback from government departments.

“The information provided on a destination county’s government department website regarding the application processes and what actually happens on the ground are two different things entirely. There is contradictory information provided between departments and before a professional can leave SA, it is now also not good enough just to have your travel documents and permits in order but special certificates from the SA Department of Labour and Employment and the Department of Health may be needed to facilitate the trip,” Bouziane adds.

She says due to the lockdown regulations it is vital to get this clearance showing that professionals and business people have the necessary government authority to travel across African borders. Without these approvals governments could raise questions about why it was necessary to travel to sign off on a deal or ask why a certain skill was required by the country on a specific project.

“Sometimes simply by saying the wrong thing to a government official, a professional can put his or her foot in it, and raise unnecessary questions and unleash a tangle of red tape that will delay the process, or even lead to an application being refused unduly,” Bouziane says.

Avoid the Backlog, Apply Now

During the height of the pandemic Bouziane received a flood of applications for work permits from professionals seeking to travel to Mozambique, Botswana and the United States, and her office managed to use its vast networks on the continent to ensure a swift and hassle free application process for clients.

“Unfortunately, while this is a process that you can attempt to complete yourself you will find it extremely difficult to obtain feedback from the government departments on time, which may lead to delays in obtaining approvals. It is advisable to rather seek advice from an immigration specialist to find out more about the process and to enlist their assistance to avoid  any potential problems along the way,” she advises.