April 16, 2012

South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has implemented a new immigration program whereby all visa-exempt nationals must request advance travel authorization for business purposes prior to entry.  Visa-exempt nationals intending to enter South Africa purely for holiday/tourism purposes may continue to apply for visitor visas upon arrival.

What’s Changed?

South Africa has two visitor visa programs: holiday/tourism visa [Section 11(1)] and the business visitor visa [Section 11(2)-which bestows the visitor with authority to conduct certain work related activities]. Until recently, nationals of countries that enjoyed visa-exempt status could apply for a business visitor visa on arrival (VOA).

Recently, the DHA announced the suspension of VOA privileges for visa-exempt business travelers (e.g., Australian, Canadian, European Economic Area, United Kingdom, U.S. and Swiss nationals) and that these travelers must submit an electronic request to the DHA and receive written authorization prior to entry to South Africa.

Visa nationals (e.g., nationals of China and India) must submit their business visa applications to a South African consular post having jurisdiction over their place of legal residence.

[Note:  Please be advised that the VOA privilege remains in place for visa-exempt nationals entering South Africa for holiday/tourism purposes. It is anticipated that accompanying family members who are VOA nationals may continue to enter under Section 11(1) tourist status.]

For a list of of visa-exempt nationals, please see: www.home-affairs.gov.za (Select “Immigration Services” – Select “Non-Exempt Countries”).

The DHA’s requirement for advance approval for business entry is considered a rather sudden and unique shift. As a result of the newness of this application requirement, the DHA is currently experiencing application processing times of up to 30 days. Also, as the DHA does not yet have a dedicated web portal for submitting online applications or requests, all applications must be e-mailed to this address: section11@dha.gov.za

While the DHA does not strictly define all allowable business activities, business visitors cannot engage in any formal employment relationship with a South African host company (e.g., being paid directly by a South African company; having direct reporting duties to South African management).

The DHA is closely reviewing all online travel requests to determine if the business trip is (1) intended duration will be “one-off” and “brief” and (2) that the proposed duties as a business visitor are truly urgent and critical in nature.

A written request, together with a copy of the applicant’s passport and copy of round-trip airline itinerary, must be forwarded to the dedicated e-mail address above. While visa-exempt accompanying family members may enter as tourist using the VOA privilege, it is recommended that the written request also include the names of all accompanying family members.

If approved, the employee will receive an e-mail attaching a DHA approval letter.  The employee will be required to enter South Africa with his or her valid passport, original written request and the DHA’s approval letter to apply for a Section 11(2) permit at the port of entry. If the DHA does not issue an approval letter prior to the employee’s arrival into South Africa, the employee will be refused entry.

ACTION ITEMS FOR EMPLOYERS

Presently, the business visitor program is the only electronic entry request for South Africa.  All other entry applications must be filed with a South African consular post prior to departure.

The estimated turnaround time for approval by the DHA will depend on the volume of online applications being made at any given time. Given that the current estimated processing time is 30 days, companies are advised to work with their immigration suppliers to assist business travelers submit their online applications at least five weeks prior to departure.

While visa-exempt nationals may obtain VOA as tourists, business travelers must not misrepresent their entry by applying for entry as a tourist. Business travelers are at risk for arrest and/or detainment or deportation if found to misrepresent the conditions of their stay.

Please note that the DHA’s application requirements and protocols may change with little to no advance public notice and individual applications will undergo discretionary review. Therefore, business travelers should exercise flexibility and patience in receiving travel authorization and anticipating unforeseen changes or delays when departing or entering South Africa.

As the DHA is more closely monitoring entry and duration of stay, companies and business travelers should be aware that advance business travel authorization for visa-exempt nationals may only be granted for single entry. In addition, the duration of stay may be linked to the proposed dates of stay listed on the travel itinerary.

Glenn Faulk, Global Knowledge Manager, has written this alert in coordination with our South African immigration service providers-Relocation Africa and DLA Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr.

Caveat Lector | Warning to Reader

This content is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or final guidance for any immigration matter. Readers are reminded that a country’s immigration laws and requirements may change with little to no advance public notice. Questions regarding specific immigration matters should be addressed to your Pro-Link GLOBAL specialist.