Tech Career Insights: What I Learnt When Applying for a South African Critical Skills Visa

What I Learnt When Applying for a South African Critical Skills Visa

By Heena Manglani

Applying for a critical skills visa to work as a developer in South Africa can be quite confusing and stressful. Here’s what I’ve personally found to be most useful at each stage of the process.

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I had been in a good job working as a software developer in India when I married a South African man and decided to make the move to Johannesburg. Applying for a critical skills permit, however, took a long time. My application was denied the first time around and all in all, the process proved to be a lot more difficult than I thought it would be.

That’s why I’d like to share some of the key things that I’ve found important when applying for a critical skills work visa, as well as some tips for overcoming the hurdles along the way.

Things you need to know upfront

As a foreigner, you will be dealing with VFS, not Home Affairs

  • You have no direct contact with Home Affairs: In South Africa, VFS acts as a middleman between you and Home Affairs, which means that they are the only authority that you can have any direct contact with.
  • What is VFS? VFS is an outsourcing service that many international governments use to issue visas.

Starting the application process

The process of applying for a critical skills visa to work in South Africa will vary depending on whether you are applying from your home country, or from South Africa. Here is what you will need for both.

Applying from your home country

These were the steps I followed in getting together all of the information I needed to apply for my visa:

  1. I checked whether the skills I have are counted as critical skills in South Africa, using this website. I learned that you need to have at least three years of experience working in this field.
  2. I got my education/qualifications verified by SAQA to find out which professional body I should register with. You can check this here.
  3. I got police clearance from my home country. Something important I learnt is that you will need to have resided in the country you are applying for clearance from for more than 12 months. Also, when you submit your application, your police clearance certificate cannot be older than three months.
  4. I got a medical certificate from a general practitioner and a radiology certificate to confirm that I was in good health.
  5. I wrote a motivation letter to describe how me and my skills would benefit South Africa.
  6. I submitted my offer letter and contract from my new employer in South Africa. If you don’t have both documents, one or the other is also fine.
  7. I submitted my new company’s registration document. I learnt that you can either copy this template, or ask your new employer to provide you with their registration letter that is compliant with the South African regulatory one.
  8. If you don’t have an offer yet, I found out that you will need to submit bank statements that show that you have enough money to support yourself in South Africa for at least 12 months.
  9. Finally, I used this link to check up on the other documents, such as birth certificates that I would need to take with me to VFS.

Applying from South Africa

While investigating the process, I found out that you can only apply for a critical skills visa from South Africa if:

  • You have studied at and graduated from a South African university
  • You are in the country on a spousal visa and your education/work experience is classified as a critical skill

If you are in South Africa already, on a spousal visa, you will need to take all the steps mentioned above, as well as submit:

  1. A letter of support from your spouse
  2. Your spouse’s bank statements

I also learnt that if you are applying as a student who has graduated from a South African university, you will need to apply for a South African graduate waiver, and then for the critical skills visa.

What to do if the process takes longer than you expect

When I submitted my application, I was told that it would be ready in eight weeks. Facing pressure from my employer to know the status of the visa, I figured out a few things to make the waiting period easier for myself, plus communicate clearly with my company:

  • I checked up on the status of my visa daily here. All you have to do is enter your application number and your surname.
  • I made sure to update my employer regularly. I would update them once a week on where I was at and what steps I had taken to follow up with VFS.
  • When the eight weeks had passed and I hadn’t heard from VFS, I phoned their call center every day and regularly tweeted them on Twitter. Often times, this was the best way to get a human response from someone on their end.

What to do if your application gets rejected

The first time I submitted my application, it was rejected. There was an issue with my company’s registration document, and so I was faced with two options: Appeal or reapply.

In my experience, appealing the rejection takes a lot longer than reapplying. I would therefore recommend that anyone who is rejected rather reapplies. This is expensive, because you will have to pay all of the fees again, but it will be a quicker process.

The most valuable lesson I learnt when I had to reapply was that there is a whole community of people who are experiencing the same or similar issues. I found this Facebook group where people post difficulties they are facing or queries that they have, and others who have experience offer advice.

I have now settled into my new life in South Africa and have been able to continue my career as a developer. It was a journey to get to this point that was filled with unknowns. Hopefully, this post has provided some insights that will help you in securing your own critical skills visa. Good luck!


Heena Manglani has a B.Eng in IT from Ahmedabad Institute of Technology Gujarat Technological University in India, and more than four years of experience working as a software developer. She has experience with PHP, Angular and React, and is interested in working more with Java. When she’s not coding, she enjoys doing henna art.

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