Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

New visa regulations welcome, but concern about implementation – BLSA

Changing work visa regulations was a positive step, but it does not help if the regulations are not implemented quickly and efficiently.

The new visa regulations, which will make it easier for people to come and work in South Africa, are welcome, but there are concerns about their implementation as the country does not necessarily have the resources ad leadership required for effective implementation.

Busi Mavuso, CEO of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), says the new visa regulations is another positive stride forward for policy reform that will fundamentally alter the way work visas are provided in South Africa.

The digital nomad visa will allow foreigners to come to South Africa to work remotely from here if they earn more than R1 million. The legal framework has now been put in place for a point-based system to replace the critical skills list. The criteria for the points system are due to be published by the end of April.

Other changes include easing the requirements for police clearance certificates and other documents.

ALSO READ: Private sector can help government with critical skills visa backlog

Cumbersome visa system and huge backlog

Mavuso has complained before that the cumbersome visa system makes it extremely difficult for business to bring in international skills. It is also a major impediment for foreign investors to commit their funds to the country.

“They cannot be expected to build new factories or data centres without confidence that they can send in their best global people to set up or manage them. In May last year, Operation Vulindlela, the joint venture between the Presidency and National Treasury to unlock structural reform, published a detailed report on what should be done to improve the visa regime with many good recommendations.”

BLSA helped to fund the work and the report showed how skilled foreigners enable domestic employment, increase taxes and support economic growth. The announcement on the eve of the Easter weekend implements some of these, Mavuso says.

Although the announcement lagged the Department of Home Affairs’ own timetable for the reforms (some of which it said would be done in 30 days) that it set out when the Operation Vulindlela report was published, it is positive that the regulations are now in place, she says.

ALSO READ: ‘We don’t want officials walking free’ – Home Affairs deputy minister asks for patience as visa fraud probe continues

Effective implementation of visa regulations needed

However, she warns that the regulations only do not mean they will be effective to actually make it easier for skilled foreigners to work in South Africa.

“As we well know, regulations can enable an effective government, but it takes resources and leadership to deliver the services that should theoretically be available. This is especially so in the case of visas.”

Mavuso says in her position she regularly receives emails and messages from business leaders desperately trying to get the Department of Home Affairs to process applications. One US multinational recently had visas denied for two senior engineers without explanation, leaving it unable to manage critical systems for its business.

Various European chambers of business with many investors here have been trying for many months to engage home affairs on the countless outstanding visas for company executives and their families who should have long been in the country already.

“According to home affairs’ own figures, it has a backlog of many thousands of applications that continues to grow. Judging from the many messages I receive, this problem is still far from being resolved.”

Therefore, she says, while the regulatory reforms are welcome and have the potential to make a big difference to how easily businesses can access foreign skills, she is concerned whether Home Affairs has the capacity to do its job successfully.

ALSO READ: SA’s tourism soars despite our visa mess

Government needs a plan to resolve backlog

“Government needs a plan for how it will resolve the massive backlog in existing applications and then develop a change management programme for how the bureaucracy will become fit-for-purpose in functioning under the new regulations. We must ensure that the gap between policy and effectiveness is closed.”

Mavuso says this is of course not the only example where effectiveness is a problem within a potentially conducive regulatory environment. She notes the example of British American Tobacco that is scaling down its retail distribution, affecting 500 jobs, because of the way its business has been affected by the illicit cigarette trade.

“Illicit cigarettes are of course illegal and cost the country a fortune in lost excise duty, yet the police and revenue service have not been able to stem the tide. There are many other examples where it is not the policy that is the problem, but the effectiveness of government functioning within the policy. Policy can be key in clearing the way for government to be effective, but it is not enough.”

For more news your way

Download our app and read this and other great stories on the move. Available for Android and iOS.

For more news your way

Download our app and read this and other great stories on the move. Available for Android and iOS.