South Africa: The Critical Skills List & High Skilled Immigration

Last Updated on January 24, 2024

South Africa: Immigration Overview

The government of South Africa generally maintains a system of immigration with a focus on recruiting foreign nationals during times of high labor demand. In a whitepaper published in 2017 by the South African Department of Home Affairs (DHA), the country seeks to encourage a heightened interest in business immigration. As a result of this increased focus, the government continues to focus on implementing regulations and procedures related to immigration.

In South Africa, immigration matters are managed by the DHA. The DHA is a government department that has independent provincial Visa Application Centres (VACs) that accept visa and work permit applications on behalf of foreign nationals based within South Africa. Foreign nationals can also submit visa applications at South African diplomatic missions abroad.

South Africa’s prevailing immigration legislation is based on the Immigration Act 13 of 2002, which has been modified various times by associated immigration regulations.

The DHA’s amendments to the country’s immigration legislation are said to reflect South Africa’s desire to attract foreign nationals in times of high labor demand. One of the largest amendments led to the introduction of the Critical Skills Work Visa (CSWV).

The Critical Skills Work Visa (CSWV)

The CSWV was introduced in 2014 as part of new legislation. This work authorization type replaced the Exceptional Skills Permit and the Quota Permit. According to the DHA, the CSWV targets foreign nationals with skills or qualifications that benefit the South African economy.

The CSWV cannot be issued for a period exceeding five years at a time and can be renewed for an additional five years so long as the applicant continues to meet all application requirements and the original critical skills category continues to exist. To qualify for the CSWV, applicants for this visa must prove that their qualifications and skills, along with post-qualification experiences, fall within the criteria set by the Critical Skills List.

What is the Critical Skills List?

The criteria for application adjudication are made based on the Critical Skills List. South Africa introduced the Critical Skills List in 2014 to address occupation shortages in high-demand industries or industries facing a skills shortage. Specifically, the list functions as a way of enabling the government to achieve objectives established under economic programs like the National Department Plan (NDP), the Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) and the New Growth Plan (NGP).

The primary list covers skills that are deemed scarce within the South African economy by the government. The list contains 12 educational subject matter areas, including subjects relating to agriculture, business, communication and technology, engineering, health professions and more. The list originally contained over 215 occupation titles and names.

The newest version of the Critical Skills List was released in February 2022, eight years after the original list was published. The list was updated due to changes in the South African economy, the rise of educational levels in South Africa, and conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2022 list includes 101 critical skills categories and information on the occupation name or title, a description of the occupation, and the minimum qualification requirements. The new list was expanded to include positions of corporate general manager for medium enterprises and larger and director and chief executive officer for enterprises and organizations. Other job categories, such as those in health-related professions, were significantly reduced. Additionally, the government introduced higher educational level requirements for foreign nationals to be hired under some occupational titles.

Trends and the Future

According to Statistics South Africa, a local government statistic data service, as many as 82% of foreign nationals employed in South Africa stated that they planned to remain in South Africa rather than return to their countries of birth when COVID-19 lockdown restrictions began in 2020 because they considered the country their home. Five percent of these respondents indicated they were concerned that if they left South Africa, they would be unable to re-enter.

On 2 August 2022, the government of South Africa updated the 2022 Critical Skills List by adding 38 additional categories. The updated version includes information on qualification requirements and the job description for each category.

According to the DHA’s accompanying announcement, the list was carefully revised and includes the addition of medical specialists and nurses. Additionally, the government stated that the revised list is expected to positively contribute to addressing skill gaps in South Africa.

As foreign nationals continue to work and live in South Africa, the government will need to continue to refine and develop its immigration policies. The Critical Skills List is also likely to evolve in future years as the South African economy faces new growth and the government seeks to recruit new talent to the country.

At the end of June 2022, the Prime Minister of South Africa reportedly announced that the government would commence plans to overhaul the country’s immigration system completely. The government has yet to clarify what these changes will include, but public sources indicate new long-term work permits for foreign nationals may be introduced. Additional information is expected in late 2022.

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Content in this publication is for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an attorney at one of the two U.S. Law Firms working with the Envoy Platform or another qualified professional. On non-U.S. immigration issues, consult an Envoy global immigration service provider or another qualified representative.