South Africa: Short-term work permit move is ill-considered

If a foreigner wants to come to South Africa to work for more than three months, one must apply for an appropriate category of work permit.

But if the person is only flitting into the country for a few days (or any period up to three months) to attend meetings, work on a film or do other such work, he or she can apply for what is called a Section 11(2) visitor permit. This is permission to be here as a visitor and to work – for that very limited window.

Until very recently, all that was required (if your passport is visa exempt) was a letter confirming when you were coming and what you intended doing, where and for how long. You would present this on arrival at OR Tambo International Airport and you would get permission to work for up to three months. This was nice, clean and efficient. Unfortunately, this business-friendly facility was also open to serious abuse – and it was abused.

But instead of ‘tweaking’ its software, deploying its officials to inspect known suspect employers or even just engaging business and other stakeholders for an efficient response, the department has implemented a ‘butter-cutting chainsaw’ response which threatens to hit a whole range of industries that, legitimately, need to deploy employees to South Africa at short notice and for short periods.

The move will just force genuine ‘workers’ to arrive on ordinary Section 11(1) visitor permits and do their work stint illegally. If detecting 11(2) abuses was difficult, how much more difficult is it going to be to detect 11(1) abuses. The abuses of the 11(2) permit needed to be set right. But this is not the way, Home Affairs.

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