A recent survey by Xpatweb shows that 44% of employers are faced with work visas for their expatriate workers that are about to expire or will expire during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The survey gives a sense of how the lockdown is impacting expat workers and new assignees who were due to enter SA. More than 150 JSE-listed and large multinational companies operating across Africa participated in the survey. According to the survey, 37% of the participants have new assignees that were due to enter the country during the first quarter of 2020. They are waiting for the lockdown regulations to be lifted in order to enter SA.

These expats will then need to obtain work visas from 34 different SA embassies around the world. Top of the list of countries from where the assignees will be coming from is Germany, Zimbabwe, China, India and Spain. Embassies that will also be kept busy include Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Serbia, New Zealand and the US.

Interestingly, 84% of the participating companies indicated that they are not affected by revoked visas.  When the Department of Home Affairs issued its first directive – just before the lockdown and the travel ban – it stated that certain visas issued to people from high risk countries would be revoked.

The Department has further clarified that only visas issued to people from China and Iran, and who had not yet activated their visas at the time of the travel ban, would be revoked. Xpatweb has confirmed this position with the Department.

Expats who had an existing visa and went back to their home countries would be able to re-enter SA with their existing visa when travel ban is lifted. They were concerned that their visas would be revoked and that they would have to re-apply. That is however not the case. These assignees will be able to enter SA again at a later date using their existing visas.

Companies seem to be dealing differently with the start dates of assignments where assignees had not yet entered SA at the time of the travel ban being imposed. In the case of an intra-company transfer, assignees are in many cases simply remaining in their current role with the foreign entity with a delayed assignment start date to be confirmed until the travel restrictions are lifted.

There is certainly going to be a mismatch between the work visa issue dates and the actual assignment start dates.

In the case of new assignees who have already resigned from a previous position, companies may request that these expats start working from abroad until the borders open again.

According to the survey 9% of expats either resigned their position or declined a position due to the coronavirus outbreak. Employers have indicated that their preferred recruitment destination to have these positions filled is internationally (30%) compared to locally (20%).  Another 20% said they will look both locally and internationally

It is important to remember that the work visa does not become active on the day it is issued. It only becomes active once the expat travels through a border and it is loaded onto the Department’s track-and-trace system.

We trust that the Department will be quite lenient and understanding because current circumstances are beyond anybody’s control.


Marisa Jacobs