South Africa preparing ‘critical skills’ list for work visas under new immigration rules

Out-Law News | 27 Jun 2014 | 12:02 pm | 2 min. read

South Africa's newly-appointed home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba has defended the introduction of new immigration rules , which he said will “balance the need for better security with the contribution migration makes to economic development and prosperity”.

A ‘critical skills work visa’ has also been introduced as part of the ‘Immigration Regulations of 2014’, which came into effect on 26 May. The home affairs department said a list of what are regarded as ‘critical skills’ is yet to be published. 

Quota work permit and exceptional skills work permits have been repealed under amendments to regulations. Those issued with business visas must now employ or prove that at least 60% of their total staff are South African citizens or permanent residents. Gigaba said the number required before the changes was just five employees.

Gigaba told a press conference on 29 May that immigration regulations had been “abused” in the past and it was important to “clarify those [regulations] and ensure that we streamline and simplify them”.

Under the new regulations the word ‘visa’ replaces the word ‘permit’, except for the permanent residence ‘permit’. No business visa may be issued or renewed to a foreigner who intends to establish or invest in a business that is listed as an “undesirable business undertaking”.

Asked about comments in the South African media that the new measures could deter foreign investors wanting to move to the country, Gigaba said the new regulations were not “set in stone”. He said he was aware of the need for firms such as the freight logistics company Transnet and national power utility Eskom “to be able to bring in skills from overseas for a period of time in relation to the infrastructure roll out programme”.

Gigaba said if the new regulations prove to be “too onerous and impede the growth and development of the economy, then we will take the necessary decisions in that regard whilst not compromising the need for security... but I think that is addressed in us saying that we will publish the list of critical skills, we will give people a temporary work visa that will last for four years or for the duration of the project”.

Visas issued in relation to work in the infrastructure sector, which Gigaba described as “critical”, will be renewable. There will be “ongoing discussions”, but he said: “What we cannot do, is, ahead of time, presumptuously, come to the conclusion that the needs of the economy supersede those of security, because without security we might not have the economy.”

On critical skills, Gigaba said “we are talking about artisans that are required by Eskom to build power stations, Transnet around rail and the pipelines; Sanral in relation to the construction of roads”. The minister said talks would be held with South Africa’s trade and industry minister to “identify those critical skills”.

A report published last January by South African workforce management company Adcorp said the national economy’s demand for high-skilled workers had “remained relatively stable over the past decade”. The report said there was “a consistent shortage of high-skilled workers amounting to around 829,000 unfilled vacancies, positions that could be easily or immediately filled if only the requisite skills were available”.

According to Adcorp labour market economist Loane Sharp: “South Africa’s skills shortage is substantial and is not being met by the local supply of high-skilled workers. Therefore the restrictions on foreigners living and working in South Africa should be relaxed, since this would supplement the dwindling local supply of skills.”

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