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Explained: Visas to live and work in Cape Town, South Africa
Top immigration lawyer gives simple and up-to-date answers
Last updated: Tuesday, 3 September 2023
We all know someone who would love to move to Cape Town (or who we’d love to move here).
We also know how difficult the process can be; with new legal developments, conflicting information and confusion about which documents you need.
We sat down with immigration lawyer Kristina Gromova to explain (in simple terms) how to live and work in South Africa.
GUIDANCE FROM SOMEONE WHO’S BEEN THROUGH IT
Kristina was born in Russia and moved to South Africa when she was 12 years old. Her passion for immigration comes from knowing first-hand how difficult it is to immigrate to a new country.
“Immigration excites me and I love it. Because of my family background, I know it's a life-changing decision and can cause a lot of stress. So many people get incorrect advice and a rejection can change your life story.”
Her boutique firm, De Jure, is fully dedicated to immigration (unlike bigger firms where it’s just one department). She has helped people from Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, Ireland, the USA and more to move to South Africa.
Kristina has worked for the top immigration firms and lawyers in the country. Credit: Kristina Gromova
WHY USE AN IMMIGRATION EXPERT?
Although it’s possible to do all the paperwork yourself and acquire a visa, the chance that you will be rejected is high. This is because there’s a lot of documentation involved and one wrong thing can result in your application not being approved.
“A rejection stays on your record and it makes it more difficult to receive a positive result.”
Going through a firm like De Jure ensures higher chances of a positive application (plus, who wants to do all that admin?)
De Jure’s costs are also lower than big firms, and being boutique, clients get one-on-one attention and focus (unlike bigger firms, where your application just becomes another file in the system).
“I do not take a client on if I don’t think I can help them. Each person gets my attention, transparency and personal touch.”
HOW TO GET PERMANENT RESIDENCY?
To become a permanent resident, you first need to be living in South Africa on a long-term visa. How quickly you can become a permanent resident depends on which visa you have.
With some long-term visas, you can submit a permanent residency application immediately after acquiring the visa. With others, you’ll have to wait until you're eligible (for example, if you were living in South Africa on a business visa this would be after the business has been operating for one year).
Some of the most popular are the retirement, spousal, business and critical skills visas. For further information, see the Department of Home Affairs website on how to become a permanent resident.
Waivers are possible if the foreigner comes from a country affected by war or political instability. If granted, a waiver allows the foreign national to apply from South Africa (instead of their own country) or for the application requirements to be adjusted.
Many foreigners move to Cape Town for an improved quality of life or for a sense of adventure. Image: Tobias Reich/Unsplash
HOW CAN I GET A RETIREMENT VISA?
Contrary to popular belief, the retirement visa does not have an age requirement attached to it.
The individual needs to prove that they have R37 000 passive monthly income (around €2 000 depending on exchange rate). This can be in the form of rental property income, shares, interest from a financial portfolio, etc.
Retirement visas can be one of the more tricky ones to get, says Kristina, as embassies often think an age requirement is attached to a South Africa retirement visa. “Embassies do not always know the law best – lawyers do. We can fight for you.”
Ideally, a retirement visa would take around 14 days to one month to be approved. You’ll find exactly what documents you need for a retirement visa on the Department of Home Affairs website.
HOW CAN I GET A SPOUSAL VISA?
A spousal visa, on the other hand, is one of the easier visas to get. This is because there is not much documentation needed besides a marriage certificate.
There are two kinds of spousal visas: A visitors visa (which is valid for three years and allows you to work) and a relatives visa (which is valid for two years and does not allow you to work).
It is advisable that couples who marry outside South Africa register their marriage. The details of the marriage must be captured on the Population Register in South Africa. This also applies to previous spousal relationships, like divorces and deceased spouses.
“A great new development is that the foreign spouse can come on a tourist visa and apply for a spousal visa from South Africa,” says Kristina. This means that couples can start a life in South Africa together before the foreign spouse applies for a long-term visa.
Something to be aware of is that if you want to apply for a relatives visa, your spouse will need to prove that they are financially supporting you. The South African spouse will need a minimum of R208 000 in their bank account, which Kristina says can be a difficult requirement for a lot of South Africans.
A spousal visa is one of the easiest visas to acquire. Image: Sandy Millar/Unsplash
CAN I GET A SPOUSAL VISA IF I’M NOT MARRIED?
Yes! You can also get a spousal visa if you are a life partner. You need to prove that you have been together for two years or more, that you have been living together and that you have been contributing to finances together.
According to Kristina, these documents can be difficult to obtain. “You need documents like rental invoices for both people. These days, everything is online and people don’t keep invoices. They delete them. You need to have proof that, for example, one partner paid for rent and the other paid for food and other expenses.”
Rejections are high for this reason and the information online about what documents you need can be misleading. “The documentation needs to be really legit and clear. People get confused about which documents prove that they have been living together and sharing financial responsibilities. This is where an immigration lawyer can help.”
HOW CAN I GET A BUSINESS VISA?
Business visas are for foreign nationals who want to start a business in South Africa or invest in a South African company (at a R5 million minimum investment).
This is one of the most drawn out visa processes because it involves multiple government departments.
First, you need to make an application to the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) to determine if your business is needed in South Africa. Some industries are more likely to receive a positive result than others as they contribute significantly to the economy (like manufacturing, tourism, medicine, oil and gas).
Only once you are approved by the DTI (which can take up to 45 days) does Home Affairs start processing your application. You can find which industries are likely to be rejected on the Department of Home Affairs website.
Some industries (like tourism) can get a discounted minimum investment amount. Image: Microsoft365/Unsplash
HOW CAN I GET A CRITICAL SKILLS VISA?
This is for specific sectors that are seen as important in achieving the objectives of programmes like the National Development Plan (NDP) and New Growth Plan (NGP). It includes occupations in the healthcare, natural sciences, business management, financial, manufacturing, engineering and education sectors.
It is one of the longest and most expensive visas to acquire.
This is because your qualifications first need to be sent to The South African Qualifications Authority, which verifies foreign qualifications in terms of the South African National Qualifications Framework. This can take up to 90 days. It’s quite an expensive process, with R1 700 for one degree and R850 per subsequent degree.
Applications to professional bodies sometimes need to be done too. Depending on the sector, this can cost up to R15 000 with an exam being required in some instances. See the full critical skills list via the Department of Home Affairs website.
Many healthcare occupations are on the critical skills list. Image: Sasin Tipchai/Pixabay
HOW DOES THE CRITICAL SKILLS CHANGE AFFECT ME?
In August 2022, the critical skills list was expanded. There were 39 occupations added, many of which are specialist healthcare professionals (specialist dentist, pathologist, psychiatrist and surgeon are some of the occupations added to the critical skills list).
Another change is that foreign nationals now need a contract of employment to apply for a critical skills visa. “Many South African businesses will not offer a contract to someone that they have not met in person or who does not already live in the country. This makes acquiring a critical skills visa more difficult.”
There are so many people that would love to move to Cape Town (we don’t blame them). If you’re interested in learning more, a consultation with Kristina can be booked via email.
BOOK A CONSULTATION
De Jure is open: Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm
Book a consultation: firstname.lastname@example.org; 076 914 7195; 021 205 7761
Read more about De Jure: Via De Jure’s website
Find De Jure: Alfred Chambers, 2nd Floor, Cape Town Cruise Terminal, V&A Waterfront
By Julia Rowley
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