We’re seeing more foreigners apply to OfferZen so I thought it’s a good time to write something about South African work visas. If you are a foreigner earning a salary of any kind in South Africa, you will need a work visa.
There are roughly four main work visa types:
- Intra-company transfer work visa
- Individual Corporate Worker Visa
- General Work Visa
- Critical Skills Work Visa
This post will focus on the Critical Skills Work Visa, which has some advantages over the others. I’m not a lawyer so if you spot any mistakes let me know and I’ll correct the post.
Critical Skills Work Visa
It seems counter intuitive but most South African tech companies want you to have a work visa before they interview you. Fortunately there’s a work visa you can obtain before finding employment: The Critical Skills Work Visa. The good news is that if you write code for a living then you probably qualify for a critical skills visa!
Another cool bonus about the critical skills work visa is that you can apply for permanent residence pretty soon after acquiring it, providing that you have 5 years working experience in your field and an offer of permanent employment.
Critical skills list
In order to qualify for a Critical Skills Work Visa your profession needs to appear on the critical skills list issued by the Department of Home Affairs.
The section relevant for developers is Information Communication & Technology. It states that if you have any of the following skills you qualify for the critical skills visa:
- CISCO Solution Specialist
- CISCO Engineers
- Solutions Architects in Telecommunications and ICT
- Integrated Developers (PHP, Perl, Java )
- Network Analyst IT Security Specialist
- System Integration Specialist
- Enterprise Architecture
- Database Specialists
- Microsoft System Engineers
- Network Specialist
- AV Specialists (Anti-virus)
- Desktop support Engineer
The most important thing to note is that the specific roles on the list aren’t all that important. For instance if you’re a Python developer (which is not on the list), then you will still be able to obtain a critical skills visa. The Department of Home Affairs is looking for developers in a broad sense - so as long as you write code you should be in a good position to get the critical skills visa.
Requirements for getting the critical skills visa
When applying for the Critical Skills Visa you must prove to that you are qualified. Commonly this is done by registering with a relevant trade union. Most IT skills, including software developers, do this by registering with the IITPSA (Institute of IT Professionals South Africa).
The IITPSA has a detailed critical skills work visa page on what you need to do as a foreigner to apply and register.
How to apply for the critical skills visa
You can try to apply for a work visa yourself or you can use an immigration firm. Applying for a visa is a fairly laborious process, so if you decide to apply yourself make sure you know what you’re getting into. Having been through the process myself for a US work visa, I’d recommend using an immigration firm.
It can be difficult to select an immigration firm as there isn’t an easy way to compare firms. A good rule of thumb is to ensure that a lawyer is preparing your application pack. Usually firms charge a fixed rate for your visa application - typically R12,000 and R15,000 once-off for the Critical Skills visa.
After you get the visa
The Critical Skills Visa gives you a period of 12 months during which you can legally live in South Africa and look for a job. If you don’t find a job within that time, you have to return to your country of origin and apply again.
If you find employment within the 12 month period, then you will need to re-apply for the visa stating the name of the company. Similarly if you change jobs then you need to re-apply again. Your visa can then be valid for up to 5 years.
Bringing your family to South Africa
Someone with a critical skills visa can bring their family to South Africa on accompanying dependent visas. Children will probably need study visas. The accompanying dependent visa would give your family temporary residence, but would not enable them to work. They would have to qualify for a work visa in their own right.
A note of thanks
Jesse Green was kind enough to help me write this post. Jesse is super knowledgable on South African work visas and is the founder of immigrationsouthafrica.org.