Joining family in South Africa: A visa guide

Families are scattered across the globe these days. Sometimes, though, it gets too much. What grandparent doesn’t want to see their grandchildren grow up?

Thankfully, South Africa’s immigration regulations allow grandparents to reunite with their children and grandchildren.

Our Immigration Act also provides opportunity for spouses, life partners and children to join their immediate South African family member or members in SA. The same goes for siblings of South Africans and the immediate family members of foreign nationals moving to SA.

South African visa options for joining family in SA

As explained above, South Africa has several visas that enable families to reunite and live together in SA. These visas are:

  1. Spousal Visa
  2. Life Partner Visa
  3. Relatives Visa
  4. Accompanying Dependent Visa

The most suitable visas for you and your family will depend on your personal circumstances. If you continue reading, you’ll understand each visa category better. Please do not hesitate, however, to contact us if you’d prefer one of our consultants to explain your options to you.

1. Spousal Visa

When a civil marriage union exists between a foreign national and a South African citizen or permanent resident, the foreign national spouse can apply for a Spousal Visa.

The starting point is applying for temporary residency, which is usually issued for two to three years. After being married for five years, your spouse will be able to apply for permanent residency.

What if you’re already married for five years when your spouse applies for a visa?

Your spouse is allowed to apply for permanent residency right away if you have been married for five years already.

It’s not advisable though.

The Department of Home Affairs takes years to adjudicate permanent residency applications. It can easily become a 2-year waiting period – or longer!

It is for this reason that we advise our clients to start with a temporary residency application regardless of how long the marriage is at the time of applying. Once your spouse has temporary residency, he or she can enter and live in South Africa and then apply for permanent residency.

Can my spouse work in South Africa?

If your spouse wants to work in South Africa, or study or conduct business, they would need get an endorsement on their visa. Endorsements allow spousal visa holders to take up their chosen activity in South Africa.

Spouses with permanent residency are free to work, study or do business in South Africa as they please. Permanent residents have the same rights and privileges as South African citizens, with the exception of being able to vote and to apply for a South African identity document.

2. Life Partner Visa

Your foreign national partner can apply for a Life Partner Visa in the absence of a civil marriage union. This visa is for when a good faith relationship exists between a foreigner and South African citizen or permanent resident.

You’ll have to prove that your relationship is ‘real’

For Life Partner Visa applications, the Department of Home Affairs wants to see that the relationship is genuine and of a stable nature. To prove this, you’ll need the following:

  • Proof of joint cohabitation for a minimum of two years
  • Proof of shared financial responsibility for a minimum of two years

Should you be able to demonstrate evidence for a two year period, temporary residency is an option. If your and your life partner have proof for five years or more, your partner can apply for permanent residency.

Can my partner work in South Africa?

Just like with the Spousal Visa, your life partner will be allowed to work in South Africa as a temporary resident with an endorsement on their visa.

Your life partner must also apply for an endorsement if they want to study or conduct business if they hold temporary residency.

Once your partner is a permanent resident, they’ll no longer need an endorsement.

3. Relatives Visa

The Relatives section of the immigration act provisions for those who are in the first and second step of kinship to a South African citizen or permanent resident. This includes spouses, life partners, children, parents and siblings.

Only some family members qualify for temporary and permanent residency

The Immigration Act only offers a temporary and permanent residency to:

  • Spouses
  • Life partners
  • Children
  • Parents

Unfortunately, you’ll only qualify for temporary residency if you fall within one of these categories:

  • Siblings
  • Parents of minor children, i.e. children under the age of 18. Permanent residency is only an option once the child is 18 years or older.

If you’re either of these and you’d like PR in South Africa, we suggest looking at other visa options.

4. Accompanying Dependent Visa

If you’re not a South African citizen or permanent resident and the visa options above are not relevant to you, there is an alternative visa option for your family to join you.

The accompanying dependent visa is likely to be the best option. It allows for spouses, life partners and minor children of foreign nationals to join that person in South Africa.

The accompanying dependent visa does not allow for any activity in South Africa such as work or study. It only allows for your family member to be here in South Africa with you.

To recap

South Africans and their family members from overseas can reunite in SA. There are several visa options that offer temporary residency and permanent residency.

The Immigration Act also offers a visa options for the immediate family members of foreign nationals who are moving to South Africa so that the whole family can come to SA.

The most suitable visas for you and your loved ones will depend on your personal circumstances. The outcome will be the same across the board though – your family won’t have to be separated!