Hiring foreign employees – a guide for South African employers

Content provided by a guest contributor.

There are many different types of work permits in South Africa and it can be daunting for an employer to feel safe in hiring a foreign employee. The Department of Home Affairs even has a task team that prosecutes those companies improperly employing foreign staff.

The type of visa issued depends on the situation of the applicant or employer. The South African government has created a variety of work visas to accommodate South African businesses looking to hire foreign workers.

General Work Visa

The General work visa is issued to a foreign employee who has obtained a position with a South African company. The visa will only be issued if the employer demonstrates that national job recruitment efforts in the local media were fruitless and the company must turn to foreign employees. The employee’s credentials will be screened by the Department of Labour to ensure they have the relevant experience and qualifications for the position.

Critical Skills Work Visa

The South African government legislates that those foreign nationals with specialized “exceptional” skills can be allowed a three year visa plus a possible extension. The Minister of Labour and Minister of Trade and Industry annually publish a list of critical skills. The applicant does not have to obtain a position of employment prior to applying for the critical skills work visa. Under the visa the individual may enter South Africa for up to one year at which time the visa will expire if relevant employment has not been obtained.  The applicant must demonstrate that they have said critical skills such as holding an advanced degree or publications in their field. They must register with the specialized South African professional group and their qualifications will be evaluated based on South African standards.

Intra-Company Transfer Work Visa

The Intra-Company Transfer work visa allows a foreign employee of a company with business relations in South Africa to work in-country for up to 4 years with said company. Permissible companies include those with a branch, subsidiary, or affiliate in South Africa. The applicant must be an employee of the parent company for at least 6 months prior to transfer. Note that this visa cannot be extended past 2 years.

Corporate Visa 

A corporation, not an individual, may apply for a corporate visa only after obtaining a recommendation from the Department of Labour and the Department of Trade and Industry. The recommendation is based on whether the corporate visa will benefit South African interests.  The Corporate Visa allows a limited number of foreign national employees holding certain skill sets to work under the permit for a designated amount of time.

Student Visa

Foreign students residing in South Africa on a student visa may only work part-time up to twenty hours a week.

South African Visas NOT Allowing Employment

An individual may hold a South African visa but not be employable. These visas include:

  • Relatives Visa
  • Spousal Visa – unless specific accommodation has been granted
  • Life Partner Visa – unless specific accommodation has been granted
  • Retired Person’s Visa – employment authorization from the Department of Home Affairs is rarely granted
  • Medical Treatment Visa
  • Volunteer Permit

In short, there are many ways a South African employer can reasonably hire a foreign national employee. Knowing which visas permit employment and understanding the requirements of said visas will allow employers to expand their hiring base.


The content in this article was provided by Immigration South Africa™  a visa and immigration consultancy. It can be contacted on +27 21 422 3720 or info@immigrationsouthafrica.org or www.immigrationsouthafrica.org.

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