Visas, permits, residence

Working in SA: work permits

Note: This article is currently under review as the regulations covering immigration and visas have been changed. In the meantime, please visit the Department of Home Affairs at for more information.

Perhaps you have been offered a job in South Africa, or want to set up a business here. Or maybe you've been transferred. If so, you'll need a permit to work here.

Here's information on work-permit categories, requirements and application procedures, as well as answers to some frequently asked questions.

Note: This information is meant to serve as a guide only. Requirements for work permits in South Africa are subject to change, and each application is treated as an individual case. Always make enquiries before travelling to South Africa.

Where can I make enquiries about work permits?

Info and enquiries on the Internet

What permit should I apply for?

There are different kinds of temporary residence permits related to working or doing business in South Africa. The following work permits are issued on application:

  • Quota work permit: As part of its economic growth plan, the government has made a pre-determined number of visas available to address skills shortages in certain occupations, such as engineers, artisans and technical skills.
  • General work permit: Issued to foreigners with general qualifications who intend to work in South Africa.
  • Exceptional skills work permit: This is for highly skilled or exceptionally qualified foreign nationals who want to work in South Africa.
  • Intra-company transfer work permit: Granted to those who are being transferred by their company to work in a South African branch.

Although not strictly work permits, there are other permits related to doing business or working in South Africa:

  • Corporate permit: For South African companies who need to employ foreign personnel. Validity set on application.
  • Business permit: Issued to foreigners who intend to establish or invest in a business South Africa in which they may be employed.
  • Exchange permits: Issued to applicants younger than 25 years, who may only work for one year. Valid for length of programme, or to a maximum of a year.

Protecting and creating job opportunities

There are limited employment opportunities in South Africa, particularly for the country's vast reserve of unskilled and semi-skilled workers. Accordingly, work permits will normally not be issued to people who follow an occupation for which there are already sufficient people available to meet South Africa's needs particularly unskilled and semi-skilled workers.

Employers wishing to bring workers into the country from overseas will have to satisfy the Department of Home Affairs that they are cannot find the required staff locally.

However, a key element of the government's economic growth plan is to recruit foreigners with scarce, critical and special skills in certain key areas. A pre- determined number of so-called "quota work permits" are made available for these positions. The list of occupational categories is updated by the Department of Home Affairs every year.

  • See the Department of Home Affairs' information on quota work permits, including details on the application process and frequently asked questions.

How long is my work permit valid for?

Work permits are a form of temporary residence permit, issued on request to applicants who intend to visit South Africa for longer than three months but less than three years.

Once issued with a quota work permit, you are required to submit proof that you have secured employment in the approved occupational category within 90 days, and then every year after that. Your quota work permit is "open ended", that is valid for as long as you stay employed in the original approved category or profession.

A general work permit is valid for the duration of the contract. However, it will lapse six months after being issued (and every year thereafter) unless you submit "satisfactory proof" to the Department of Home Affairs that you are still employed.

An exceptional skills permit is valid for three years, and an intra-company transfer for two years.

What if I want to start a business or invest in an existing business in South Africa?

If you wish to establish or invest in a business in South Africa in which you may be employed, you should apply for a business permit.

Applications are generally welcomed from people wishing to set up a business where this will result in capital being brought into South Africa from abroad; the manufacture of goods for export; or the employment of South Africans.

As a business permit applicant, you will be required to have at least R2,5-million (in 2013) in capital or, if you plan to invest in an existing business, your capital contribution must be part of the intended book value of the business.

However, these amounts may be reduced or even waived for certain key sector industries, such as agro-processing, tourism, textile manufacturing and information and communication technologies.

I'll be starting a business. Should I apply for a work permit or permanent residence?

Setting up a business is usually an expensive, long-term endeavour. If you're only planning to stay in South Africa on a temporary, short-term basis, then you should apply for a work permit. Otherwise you should consider applying for permanent residence. You can either do this before entering South Africa, or you can enter South Africa on a work permit and then apply for permanent residence.

Can I apply for permanent residence if I'm working in South Africa?

If you have a valid work permit, you may apply for permanent residence in South Africa. You will have to submit proof of a satisfactory work record while employed in the country.

If you have been working in South Africa for five years on a quota work permit, and can show proof of your employment, you may be granted a permanent residence permit in terms of the Immigration Act.

I'll be working for an international company in South Africa. Will I need a work permit?

Whether you'll need a work permit, or merely a business visitor's visa, will depend on whether you are being transferred or merely seconded to your company's South African branch.

If your company is transferring you temporarily to a South African branch or affiliate such that you'll be reporting directly to, and be on the payroll of, the local branch then you will need to apply for an intra-company transfer work permit.

However, if your company is seconding you to a South African branch or affiliate for a specific purpose and period such that you will still report directly to, and be on the payroll of, the parent company abroad then you will not need a work permit. Instead, you should apply abroad for a business visitors' visa.

I have a work permit, but what about my family?

Your spouse and children will need visas if they are to accompany you to South Africa. They will be issued with temporary residence permits on arrival in South Africa. They can also apply for work or study permits, either before departing or once they are in South Africa.

Citizens from some countries are not required to have a visa when they arrive in South Africa.

I'll be back soon so do I need a re-entry visa?

If you are in South Africa on a valid work or work seeker's permit, and you leave the country temporarily, you and your dependents, if any will not need a re-entry visa, provided your permit does not expire while you are out of the country. This holds even though your permit may have "single entry" endorsed on it.

What if I want to stay in South Africa for longer, or to change to the purpose of my visit?

Generally, work permits are issued for a maximum period of one year. It is best to request the full duration of your intended visit when you first arrive, as extensions are subject to additional fees. If you wish to extend your stay further, you must keep your work/residence permit valid by applying for an extension at your nearest Home Affairs office in South Africa.

You should do this at least eight weeks before your permit expires. Once your permit expires, it cannot be extended, and you will be obliged to leave the country and apply to re-enter from abroad. You should also be clear about the purpose of your visit, as this may not officially be changed once you are in South Africa.

Note that quota work permits are open ended and are valid for as long as you stay employed in the same category or profession.

Source: SAinfo reporter and the Department of Home Affairs

Reviewed: January 2014

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