A look back at 2019 immigration changes plus our thoughts on 2020

There was a lot of change in South African immigration last year. Most of it was good! We thought we’d look back on it all, seeing as we’re now at the start of a new year. We’re also going to share some thoughts and advice for what 2020 might bring.

The new critical skills list that never was

The most anticipated change of 2019 was the release of the new critical skills list. It was set to come out in April 2019 in a much shorter and restrictive form than the existing list. Some foreign nationals feared that the changes might put their stay in South Africa at risk. To date, however, a revised critical skills list has not been implemented.

Major win for families in South Africa

In June the Constitutional Court ruled that the foreign spouses and children of South Africans can change their visa status from visitor to relative while in South Africa.

Previously, changing status in South Africa was impossible. Family members of South Africans had to return to their home country to submit their relative visa applications. They then had to stay abroad while waiting on the outcome of the applications. This meant that families were split up for between one and three months at a time.

While the Constitutional Court gave the Department of Home Affairs 24 months to implement the change in law, VFS in South Africa already accepts these applications. We’ve also already received positive outcomes from the DHA.

Easier travels to South Africa

Shortly before the festive season, the Department of Home Affairs announced that they are scrapping the contentious birth certificate rule. This meant it was no longer necessary for foreign nationals travelling with children to South Africa to provide birth certificates, consent letters and other supporting documents when entering or leaving South Africa. The rule change did however not apply to South Africans and unaccompanied foreign children.

The Department of Home Affairs also eased travelling to South Africa for visitors from seven countries. In July it was announced that visitors from Qatar, the UAE, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Ghana, and São Tomé and Príncipe will enjoy visa-free travel to our shores. Further to this, the e-Visa scheme was officially launched in November. Kenya was first on the list and the pilot program will extend to India, China and Nigeria in the first quarter of this year.

A new Lesotho permit

On 18 November, applications opened for the new Lesotho Exemption Permit. This Permit replaces the previous Lesotho Special Permit which expired on the 31st of December. Lesotho nationals who hold the LSP have until the 31st of March to submit applications.

Clamp-down on the abuse of short-term work authorization

The Section 11(2) endorsement to a visitor’s visa allows for short-term work authorization in South Africa. Unfortunately due to individuals abusing this visa, the Department of Home Affairs decided to restrict the validity of the visa to 180 days per year. Furthermore, holders of this visa may now only do one renewal per year.

If you’ve made use of this visa before but have to work in South Africa for longer than 180 days at a time, you’ll have to explore alternative visa options.

What does 2020 hold?

The only people who know for sure what’s going to happen with South African immigration laws in 2020 is in the Department of Home Affairs. The best we can thus do with predictions for 2020 is look at patterns from the past and our current experiences when submitting visa applications.

When it comes to the new critical skills list, there’s been no word on it since the middle of last year. Unfortunately this means we cannot tell you when it’ll come into effect or if it’s even still going to happen.

Our advice here is thus still the same as it was last year – submit your critical skills work visa applications as soon as possible. The DHA will have to adjudicate your application against the list that was in effect at the time of submission.

The immigration industry has also been waiting on regulations proposed in the White Paper of 2017 to be implemented. As with the critical skills list, there is no news on if or when these changes might eventually happen. The most significant of the proposed changes is the replacement of permanent residence with a long-term residence visa and the delinking of residency and citizenship.

Although it sometimes takes up to three years, applicants are still receiving permanent residence. You must, however, not delay in submitting your application if PR is your ultimate goal.

Unfortunately we have seen that it’s becoming more difficult to obtain general work visas and corporate work visas. The reasons behind this is unclear to us. Our advice to you would be to do an immigration eligibility assessment to unearth all of your visa options for South Africa.

Stay up to date on upcoming changes

Apart from the above, we’ll have to wait and see what 2020 brings for the South African immigration industry. But what you can be sure of is that Intergate will bring you news of changes as soon as they happen!

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