Pathway to the South African dream

Attracting the very best talent into South Africa is a vital component to growth in mining and beyond, but sometimes proves to be a challenging task when dealing with red tape and nuances in embassy protocol


If it is often best to leave it up to the professionals. One such example is Marisa Jacobs, who is a Director at Xpatweb and heads up Immigration and Mobility. Her areas of speciality includes South African work visas, especially for employers with large groups of expatriates which requires short term employment service visas, unique dispensations or special waivers of work visa conditions.

Her solution based services extent to operating and managing a confidential payroll for various expatriate groups, obtaining various SARS tax directives and rulings, Reserve Bank clearances for expatriates, foreign bank account payments and is passionate about finding more streamlined solutions.

Is South Africa attracting women and offering them opportunities?

There are very good statistics hereon from the Department of Home Affairs (“DHA”) and Stats SA. It validates that typically South African, we are not talk-the-talk, but walk-the-walk, when it comes to promoting female employment opportunities. The statistics show we are a preferred destination for professional and skilled women form across Africa and the world.

For example, the latest information by Stats SA, released just last month, for the first time included a breakdown of the visas issued to male and female recipients. The figures show that the majority of temporary residence permits, roughly 62%, were issued to male recipients and 36% were issued to female recipients. In these statistics, female recipients peak in the age group of children under 15 years, closely followed by adults aged 30–34 years, which one may interpret as a professional group.

The Department of Home Affairs information shows for 2015 there were 9 548 work visas issue to male recipients compared to 2 558 to female recipients; 789 business visas to males compared to 94 to females; and 7 500 study visas to male students compared to 5 272 to female students.

The best example, however, is not statistics but what we are seeing on an everyday basis assisting clients. We are a preferred specialist immigration practice for employers and professionals who are not necessarily tied to one of the traditional global practices. Our engagement decision is, therefore, always made by someone choosing to make use of our services, as opposed to a client being tied in with an international contract which compels them to use a specific provider. This changes the dynamic of how we operate, as the client becomes very personal for us and even where the husband may come to work here, there is always a strong woman who absorb the pressure of moving countries and needing the security of a correctly issued work and residency permit.

Also, we are increasing assisting very senior women, both employees, those with special skills and entrepreneurs, to get the correct work visas and even to obtain their permanent residency status.

What are some new developments within the expatriation and international mobility trends worldwide?

The world is more complex and you may have seen the tax rule changes being proposed by National Treasury / SARS on South African expatriates abroad. What is less well known is that there are very favourable SARS and Reserve Bank rules, specifically for expatriates. These no doubt contribute to making South Africa a preferred location, as we simply must be attractive compared to other international locations. Our practice provides a holistic service on expatriate planning and compliance, which includes dealing with the same team on work visa, banking and tax. This especially becomes important before you decide to buy property in South Africa, retire here or consider applying for permanent residency.

What are some of the challenges in getting work permits for foreign nationals working in SA?

The challenges faced in South African immigration mostly stem from the difference between how the law has been set out and how it is being applied in practice. In 2014 a new immigration Act was introduced with a number of big changes. We thus have a fairly young system in many ways and we are certainly seeing several challenges because of this. These challenges can however be overcome and companies and professionals must not be deterred by the horror stories they hear, where you are prepared and take the challenges into consideration, processes can be streamlined and visas successfully and optimally obtained.

To elaborate on some of the challenges faced, first time visa applicants are now required to apply for the necessary visa in their home country or country of temporary residence either at the South African High Commission/Embassy or at the appointed VFS office in certain countries (including India, UK, Zimbabwe etc). Applicants finds that each Embassy has their own nuances and challenges and it thus requires a nimble approach to accommodate the requirements and ensure successful results.

The VFS offices locally pose similar challenges in accepting work visa applications and often try to fill the role of advisors for applicants. We however find that the staff are not adequately trained for this advisory role and are wrongfully turning away applicants who would like to submit applications thus denying them the opportunity for the Department to assess their application.

Another major challenge is the involvement of the Department of Labour in the “General” Work Visa application process. The new Act requires a certificate from the Department of Labour confirming, amongst other things, that despite a diligent search, the prospective employer has been unable to find a suitable citizen or Permanent Resident for the position. The Department of Labour are taking months in most cases to process these applications and more often than not give a negative recommendation resulting in a declined visa application. Further, no reasons are given for the negative recommendation making it impossible to appeal such a decision resulting in the “General” Work Visa becoming somewhat of a dinosaur category for new applicants. “General” Work Visa renewals are however still possible through a waiver process.

In general, and with the correct knowledge and skill, companies are still able to bring in skilled professionals to supplement their work force and under the critical skills category. Typical skills listed on the critical skills list are engineers, corporate general managers, scientists, physicists, technicians, architects, quantity surveyors, risk assessors, integrated developers, IT specialists, health professionals, industrial pharmacists, tradesman, specialist support foreign language speakers, academics etc.

Work permit SA has a strong female leadership team, what have been some of the successes to date?

We are 66% female owned and of a core team of 18 professionals, we are 14 women. We are 90% female and this speaks to the nature of the work and visa residency process.

What advice would you give to women looking to follow in your footsteps?

There are God given opportunities for all of us and you should make the most of each phase of your career and personal life. I am soon on maternity leave for our first born and that gives wonderful opportunity for the rest our team to step up. Very often the real growth happens where there is space to grow, which is also facilitated by having very strong systems and technical capabilities in our business.

How does our immigration system differ from other regions?

As mentioned earlier, South Africa has a fairly young system with the introduction of the new Immigration Amendment Act in June 2014 which turned much of what we knew and were used to on its head. The main objectives of the South African immigration system, and as confirmed in the recent Green Paper Update, is to attract and retain skilled foreign nationals who are in short supply in South Africa.

Your company’s outlook for the next 12 months, are you seeing a lot of professional moving overseas before the election, and many Europeans moving to Cape Town?

We have not given much thought to this question. South Africa remains a wonderful destination for anyone looking for opportunity and to raise a family. There may be some disagreeing with this statement, as there are also negatives, but I can only testify how important it is for many professional foreigners to settle here and give their families the space, weather, nature and all those good things which makes us love calling South Africa home.

In terms of mining, which skills are in hot demand? Which locations?

We have many mining clients. Yes, there is unemployment, but there is always a shortage of critical skills. Where you fall within one of these critical skills categories, the work visa process can be seamless and you can also be fast tracked to permanent residency permit.

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Issue 42