If we are to meet President Ramaphosa’s goal of boosting foreign investment and attracting skilled people to our country, we urgently need to optimise South Africa’s current visa application process, urges Marisa Jacobs, Immigration Specialist at Xpatweb.
She adds that South Africa needs to prioritise creating a more holistic evaluation process for skilled foreign workers and has to make sure their visa applications run smooth and seamless.
“There are specific immigration and business challenges that exist for foreign groups within South Africa and I believe these challenges are hampering investment into the country. The long turnaround times and costs related to obtaining work visas for foreign nationals has been raised as a key area of concern for international companies looking to grow their footprints within South Africa, an issue that could have many positive consequences for our economy and people,” says Jacobs.
Should foreign workers be forced to surrender their passports?
The costs involved in securing employment visas to work in South Africa is high, particularly in certain visa classes that require the application to be made in the applicant’s home country. The costs of obtaining employment visas is further exasperated by the South African Embassy requiring foreign nationals to surrender their passports for the duration of the processing period.
“When workers are forced to surrender their passports, they are rendered without a passport for the period that the South African High Commission takes to process the application. These applicants are then unable to travel during this period, which can impede their work commitments or personal travel needs,” explains Jacobs.
Visa applicants not only wait long periods for their work visas, but the waiver and appeal application processes that they may need to pursue also regularly lead to prolonged waiting periods.
“When comparing the waiting period as well as the requirements for work visas in South Africa to other countries, ours are considered onerous and burdensome. Besides the long waiting periods, visa applicants become frustrated with inconsistencies encountered when dealing with the various foreign embassies,” says Jacobs.
Inefficient visa applications deter skilled foreigners
Besides impeding foreign investment, these issues also extend to local companies who are looking to hire skilled workers from overseas. South Africa is currently competing with a myriad of other countries to attract and retain critical skills in sectors such as ICT, engineering,skilled trades, executives and medical professions to name a few. Burdensome visa processes could potentially deter skilled workers from taking up a work opportunity in the country.
“When the Department of Home Affairs adjudicate visas for foreign nationals who are applying for critical skills positions in South Africa, they in many cases place too much emphasis on qualifications as opposed to experience even though the Act makes a clear distinction” says Jacobs.
A person with 30 or 40 years’ experience in a profession may be overlooked if they don’t have the related qualification, which leads to local companies losing out on highly knowledgeable people.
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Author: Tasia Brummer, Immigration Administrator at Xpatweb
The White Paper for South African Migration was released on 28 July 2017 by the Department of Home Affairs. Whether you have foreign workers in South Africa, South African workers abroad or deal in any capacity with these changes, there is now a unique window to get your house in order and contribute to this important development in emigration law.
The White Paper aims to improve the management, security and influx and outflux of foreign and local nationals within South Africa and the current regimes thereof. Not only will foreign nationals whom are sojourning and those who wish to sojourn in the Republic be affected, but South African citizens who work abroad must also take note of important changes.
Points Based System – Easier for the foreign national families
The Paper proposes that a “points-based” system be put in place for migrants who hold skills, potential investments and/or have business interests within the Republic. Thus, we are adopting a more strategy based and flexibility approach. This system may be adjusted considering the qualifications, experience, capital availability and willingness of the transfer of skills from foreign nationals.
Expats with scarce skills will too be required to transfer their unique skills and experiences to citizens of South Africa. This will further fill the skills gap within the labour market and decrease the scarcity of the needed skills. The acclaimed Critical Skills list will be reviewed to ensure that ‘scarce skills’ aren’t over-capacitated.
This will make it far easier for the correct expatriates to access long-stay visas. Furthermore, which can only be applauded, expats’ immediate family may apply as one unit and will thus enable the family members to conduct work and study without needing to apply for alternative visas. This is a large positive compared to current where accompanying family members are not allowed to work unless married to a South African citizen.
The toothbrush test is coming
It further proposes ‘Marriage Clearance Certificates’ to be issued to foreigners whom intend to enter into spousal relationships with citizens. This regime is only to ascertain the status of the marriage and to ensure that respective foreigners are not married in their home countries.
The process hereof is yet to be identified, but, like in the American movies, this will be where they put you in different rooms and check that you know the colour of your spouse’s toothbrush, who sleeps what side, is the pillow had or soft and how you feel that your mother-in-law interferes in the marriage.
Permanent residency to longer
Permanent residency is proposed to be replaced with longer term visas in order to dismiss the misunderstanding that expats may have in terms of progressing to citizenship by only taking into consideration the number of years they have spent in the country. The progression is thus aimed at expats who hold the necessary qualities of which will contribute to the South African economy.
Accordingly, the “point-based system” will further monitor on whether a person may qualify for short- or long-term residency and will result on whether they may apply for permanent residency and/or citizenship. Consequently, process of residency and citizenship will be deemed to be delinked.
South African citizens
Although the White Paper focuses solely on the Migration to South Africa, it does however further mention that citizens in the Republic whom intend to emigrate for a period longer than three (3) months will be mandated to apply for registration as per the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). This is to ensure that ‘strong ties’ are maintained together with the development agenda for the country, but we can see that SARS will probably also be very interested in this database.
Although the White Paper focuses solely on the future, there are two immediate takeaways –
Photo caption: Tasia Brummer
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Author: Marisa Jacobs, Director – Head of Immigration and Mobility at Xpatweb
When you employ a foreign national in South Africa, the rules and best practice are significantly different for them than normal employees. One can always fit foreign nationals into an existing human resource structure, but there is either a significant and unnecessary cost thereto, or plenty of administration. Here are some pointers to ensure you make the correct start:
Expatriate selection and preparation
The journey starts with sourcing the correct resource for the job, which is of critical importance and must be given the necessary thought. These considerations would include the emotional and psychological effects on an expatriate employee and their family and whether their family is accompanying the expatriate on the assignment or remaining behind.
Psychometric assessment that focuses specifically on a candidate’s ability to adapt to different people and situations as well as their ability to cope with pressures and set-backs can offer significant and useful insight to employers as to the suitability of a candidate and their likelihood to be successful on assignment.
Immigration and work visas
The work visa process needs to be tackled as soon as possible after a suitable candidate has been chosen. There are several steps to follow, which include identifying the correct category of visa for both the expatriate and their family, determining whether the applicant must apply in their home or host country, and then, most importantly, the process of collecting the necessary documents from both the employee and the employer.
This can be quite a lengthy process, especially where poorly managed and the sooner it gets underway the better. Work visas are easy to understand if you know what you need and how to go about it, but near impossible where you are inexperienced.
Tax planning and compliance
When employing expatriates, specific tax planning is required to ensure that, among other things, a non-residency tax status is secured and solely South African source (as opposed to world-wide) income is taxable and employee benefits such as housing exemptions are optimally structured.
Likewise, applying for SARS waivers on items such as home leave exemptions on rotational home leave trips can save companies large amounts of money. Obviously, of utmost importance is to ensure home and host country compliance at all times.
Expatriate remuneration can be a highly sensitive and contentious issue. It is therefore crucial that an objective and consistent methodology is used when adjusting an expatriate’s salary to the specific assignment for which they have been selected.
Employment contracts or secondment agreements must be setup to ensure correct wording from a work visa perspective, optimal tax planning and compliance as well as addressing standard expatriate items, i.e. aligning your agreement to leading market practice.
It is vital that an international mobility policy is formulated, taking into account market best practice, local laws and current business affordability. Companies would often make use of an “Assignment Cost Calculator” calculating the total assignment costs, including home and host country taxes.
Where employers bring in a group of expatriates for a fixed term period project, they often utilise an outsourced vehicle through which to employ professionals. Should it be a business consideration, one of the main benefits of this type of structure is to ensure complete confidentiality of remuneration. It also lessens the administrative burden of, for example, setting up a split payroll and administering offshore payments and Reserve Bank approval processes.
Other benefits ensure the correct bank account setup with exchange control, social security clearances and expatriate specific benefits. No expatriate should be forced to contribute to a South African based retirement scheme, as they do not plan to retire in South Africa (if they do, we are in breach of tax and exchange control).
Expatriates who are correctly selected and integrated deliver exceptional value to an organisation. However, end up with unhappy employees and there will be layers of frustration, as any human resource administrator who has been through this process can vouch.
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