One of the things which prompted me to set up this blog was the process minefield which the Department of Home Affairs has set in place pertaining to a tertiary-educated foreigner obtaining a work permit, in order to be ‘legally’ employed within the country of South Africa.
I listen to Five FM in the mornings on the way into work along with the news bulletins and Gareth Cliff’s frank takes on current affairs in the country. It is entertaining to say the least and more often than not Gareth tends to vocalise exactly what I expect most of the nation has been thinking when it comes to certain goings-on, political upsets, crime and other fraudulent activities, and just about any other matter which ‘gets his goat’. Of course the level of his frankness all depends on which side of bed he falls out of in the mornings and how tempting it is to make another ginger joke about Sias’ gingerness.
My initial experiences of the work permit minefield began in January 2009 when I was looking to return to South Africa, after having completed a 6 month stint assisting a local engineering firm in the design of a of World Cup airport project at OR Tambo International Airport. I researched the various visa options available and contacted a South African immigration agency (Intergate) in order to assist with the process and provide a locally based contact with Home Affairs. They advised me that with my particular skill set I could apply for a ‘Quota Work Permit’, which is similar in nature to the highly skilled work visa variant in the UK.
I was assured that the process would not take as long as the application for a General Work Permit – something which I was quite relieved about; I was eager to return to the country. After my university civil engineering masters degree (with honors accreditation no less) had been assessed by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and they had issued me with a certificate, I had to obtain the following items which would then accompany my application form to the South African High Commission in London (bear in mind that all these had to be completed in between working as the design team leader on a major airfield project in the UK):
- Full medical and doctor’s report
- Chest x-ray and separate radiological report to check for signs of tuberculosis
- Police clearance certificate from the police in the UK to ensure I had no past criminal record. The only scratch on an otherwise clean record was a 3 points fine received back in 2005 for speeding
- A new British passport with 3 years minimum left before the expiry date (luckily the UK has a 24 hour passport renewal service)
- Work references from my previous employers
- Copies of all university certificates, transcripts, A-level and GCSE certificates
- Evidence of the financial means to support oneself whilst seeking employment in the 90 day time allowance (beginning from when you first enter the country)
- Return plane ticket to the UK (at the end of the 90 days)
- Secure an appointment with the South Africa High Commission in London by working your way through an automated telephone service charged at £1 per minute and taking ‘up to 20 minutes’ to complete!
Upon successfully locating work within the South Africa (something which I had done prior to leaving the UK), the agency were required to submit to Home Affairs (in Pretoria) a copy of my work contract and letter of full-time employment. This was completed within the first week of my being in South Africa, however it took the Home Affairs department up until the day before the 90-day deadline to approve my work permit owing to the fact they were under investigation for fraud and corruption and had themselves accused the London branch of similar malpractice.
From speaking with my South African colleagues who have lived and worked in the UK, it appears that seeking employment within the UK as a foreigner is also difficult, however without the words ‘fraud’ and ‘corruption’ thrown into the mix to keep applicants on their toes.
Whilst I do not regret for an instance my decision to immigrate to South Africa, I really hope that in future a more streamlined process is introduced to allow highly-skilled work applicants (something that any country in the world should welcome) can obtain and easily renew a legal work visa. The system should also not rely so heavily on the sometimes limited knowledge and mood swings of some of those involved.
My visa is up for renewal in 2012, something that I am looking forward to (not), and I have been reliably informed that the system is changing AGAIN, to complicate matters. Quota Work permits are out – Crucial Skills permits are in, however the new rules relating to this new visa ‘might’ only be available from November 2011.