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May 11, 2018

9 Steps to Applying for a South African Critical Skills Visa

South Africa’s government is on the search for skilled labour. In fact, there is a white paper that was released by the Department of Home Affairs, in July 2017, that offers recommendations on immigration policies to make it easier for skilled foreigners to migrate to South Africa and for foreign students studying in South Africa to stay and work after they graduate. You can find out more about this white paper here.

In South Africa, it is very difficult for a foreigner to get a job offer if they are not a citizen, permanent resident, or do not hold a valid work permit. However, if you have a scarce skill, you can apply for a Critical Skills Visa. This visa allows you to enter and stay in South Africa for 12 months while you look for a job. Once you find a job within those 12 months, you can apply to extend your Critical Skills Visa for up to 5 years. Because of the existence of this visa, some employers are willing to give you a job offer if you qualify for a critical skill. Therefore, you can also apply for a Critical Skills Visa with a job offer and receive a visa which is valid for up to 5 years.

I have gone through the visa application process and the following are the steps one should take when applying for this visa.

DISCLAIMER: I am Zimbabwean so these requirements are based on information I received from VFS Harare office and other (mostly) Zimbabweans who have gone through the system. I have noticed that other countries may have slightly different requirements…so maybe call your embassy or VFS centre to ask for clarification on some of the points I listed.

1. Verify that your profession is on the Critical Skills List

The list of critical skills South Africa is seeking is found in this gazette on page 12. Check this list to see if your profession/qualifications match any of those listed on the Critical Skills list… But I’ll save you some trouble and just list them here. There are 12 educational fields and the occupations within those fields are listed below. If you have a match, congrats we can move on with the rest of the application process.

Click here to show the full list

  1. Agriculture, Agricultural Operations and Related Sciences
    • Agricultural Engineer
    • Agricultural Scientist
    • Forestry Technician
    • Sheep Shearer
  2. Architecture and the Built Environment
    • Architect
    • Construction Project Manager
    • Land Surveyor
    • Quantity Surveyor
    • Urban and Regional Planner
  3. Business, Economics and Management Studies
    • Actuaries and Risk Assessors
    • Corporate General Manager
    • External Auditor
    • Financial Investment Advisor
  4. Information Communication & Technology
    • CISCO Solution Specialist
    • CISCO Engineers
    • Solutions Architects in Telecommunications and ICT
    • Integrated Developers (PHP, PERL, JAVA),
    • Network Analyst
    • IT Security Specialist
    • System Integration Specialist
    • Enterprise Architects
    • Data Centre Operations
    • Network Specialist (Security)
    • Database Specialist
    • Microsoft System Engineers
    • Network Controllers
    • AV Specialist (Anti-virus)
    • Desktop Support Engineer
  5. Engineering
    • Energy Engineer
    • Metallurgical Engineer
    • Chemical Engineer
    • Civil Engineer
    • Electrical Engineer
    • Electrical Installation Inspector
    • Electronics Engineer
    • Geologist
    • Industrial and Production Engineers
    • Industrial Designer
    • Manufacturing Managers
    • Materials Engineer
    • Mechanical Engineer
    • Mining Engineer
    • Production/Operations Manager
    • Quality System Manager
    • Research and Development Manager
    • Ship’s Engineer
    • Telecommunications Engineers
    • Electrical Engineering Technologist
    • Energy Engineering Technologist
    • Mechanical Engineering Technologist
    • Metallurgical Engineering Technologist
    • Mining Engineering Technologist
    • Air Conditioning and Mechanical Services Plumber
    • Automotive Electrician
    • Automotive Motor Mechanic
    • Boiler Maker
    • Chemical Engineering Technologist
    • Civil Engineering Technologist
    • Diesel Mechanic
    • Electronics Engineering Technologist
    • Fitter and Turner
    • Materials Engineering Technologist
    • Mechatronics Technician
    • Metal Fabricator
    • Physical and Engineering Science Technicians
    • Pressure Welder
    • Structural Plaster
    • Toolmaker
  6. Health Professions and Related Clinical Sciences
    • Medical Superintendent/Public Health Manager
    • Public Health Physician
    • General and Specialist Medical Practitioner
    • Hospital Pharmacist
    • Nursing Professionals
    • Veterinarian
    • Registered Nurse (child and family health)
    • Retail Pharmacist
  7. Life and Earth Sciences
    • Environmental Engineers
    • Environmental Manager
    • Industrial Pharmacist
    • Aquatic Scientist
    • Animal Scientist
    • Advanced Composites Engineering
    • Archaeological/Paleontological Specialist
    • Bioeconomist
    • Biochemists
    • Bioinformatician
    • Bioinformaticist
    • Biological Scientist
    • Botanical Scientist
    • Chemical Scientist
    • Computational Biologist
    • Environmental Scientist
    • Ecological Scientist
    • Food Scientist
    • Engineering Geologist
    • Geochemist
    • Geohazards Specialist
    • Geologist
    • Geophycist
    • Laboratory Technologist and Technician
    • Marine Bioscientist
    • Materials Scientist
    • Metallurgical Scientist
    • Metrology
    • Microbiological Scientist
    • Polymer Scientist
    • Protein Scientist
    • Seismologist
    • Soil Scientist
    • Toxicology Scientist
    • Water Resource Scientist
  8. Professionals and Associate Professionals
    • Land and Engineering Surveyors
    • Electronic Engineering Technician
    • Materials Engineering Technologist
    • Electrical Engineering Technician
    • Safety, Health, Environment and Quality Practitioner
    • Draughtsperson
    • Mechanical Engineering Technician
    • Chemical Engineering Technician
    • Organisation and Methods Analyst (Incl. scheduler, estimator)
    • Surveying Technician
    • Geomatics Technician
    • Quantity Surveying Technician
    • Civil Engineering Technician
    • Materials Engineer Non-destructive Testing (NDT)
    • Materials Engineering Technician – Road materials
    • Materials Tester
    • Construction Safety
    • Health, Environment and Quality (SHEQ) Agent/Manager/Officer
    • Aeronautical Engineering
    • Architectural Senior Technologist
    • Architectural Draughtsperson
    • Astronomer
    • Physicist (SKA)
    • Geomagnetic Physicist
    • Solar Physicist
    • Space Physicist
    • Plasma Physicist
    • Space Technologist
    • Space Weather Specialist
    • Magnetic Technology Specialist, Radar Engineering
    • Radio Frequency Engineering
    • Environmental Technologist
    • Industrial Engineer
    • Industrial Engineering Technologist
    • Industrial Engineering Technician
    • Landscape Architect
    • Landscape Contract Manager
    • Landscape Horticulturist
    • Mining Technician
  9. Trades
    • Millwright
    • Boilermaker (For Strategic Infrastructure Projects)
    • Industrial Machinery Mechanic
    • Pipe Fitter
    • Double Coded Welder
    • Rigger
    • Moulder
    • Raise-bore Operators
    • Raise-bore Foreman
    • Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)
  10. Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)
    • Software Development Engineers and Managers
    • Systems Architects
    • Engineers and Managers
    • Foreign Language speakers for specialist language support and technical or sales support (German, Swiss German, Flemish, Greek, Swedish, Danish, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Mandarin and French)
    • Business Analyst
    • Quality Analyst
    • Quality Assurance Specialist/Auditor Customer Service Manager/Team Lead
  11. Academics and Researchers
    • Doctoral Graduates (Acquired Abroad)
    • Research in several areas ( full list on page 21 of the gazette here)
  12. Post-Graduates
    • Doctoral Graduate (Acquired in RSA)

2. Get your qualifications evaluated by SAQA

If you obtained your degree or qualifications from outside South Africa, you will need them to be evaluated by SAQA. You can do this on the SAQA website where you will need to create a new profile (on the left panel) and proceed from there. You will then be asked to post (you can’t email sadly) the following documents:

  • Completed application form
  • Certified copies of your Academic documents (Degree certificate, transcript, etc. )
  • Certified copy of your ID or Passport
  • Proof of payment of application fee
  • Consent Form for the release of information

If the language on your documents is not English, you need to accompany the documents with a sworn English translation. The processing period varies from 4 weeks to 4 months :/ and the postal service is quite slow so do yourself a favour and use a courier like DHL or FedEx to send your documents. I also advise you to periodically follow up on your application to make sure it’s not just gathering dust for some dumb reason.

Panorama of UCT Groote Schuur campus
Panorama of UCT Groote Schuur campus

3. Register with a Professional Body/Council recognised by SAQA

The next step is to register with a professional body recognised by SAQA. This is arguably the worst step during this whole process. Each profession listed under the critical skills list has at least one professional body/council/board that covers it. You can find a list of some recognised professional bodies here. Not all professional bodies are on this list so you can also just ask Google or post a question on this Expat Forum if you are still unsure. Before you register with the professional body, first verify that it is recognised by SAQA.

Each professional body has its own unique set of requirements for registering so you will have to check with your body. Some are strict on work experience, some require a letter of employment (which doesn’t make sense because you need this to get employment). In my case, I could use ECSA, IITPSA or ICITP which needed my academic qualifications, CV and reference letters from past employers. The processing times vary depending on the professional body in question. ECSA takes about 4 weeks to several months, IITPSA 4-6 weeks and ICITP 2-3 weeks.

You are supposed to get at least a membership certificate/letter from your professional body which you can use for your Critical Skills Visa application. However, some bodies like ICITP offer critical skills assessments where they will assess your skills and experience and give you extra supporting documents confirming your work experience and critical skill.

Sunset at Sunset Beach, Cape Town
Sunset at Sunset Beach, Cape Town

4. Get your proof of sufficient financial means

You will need to prove that you can take care of yourself in South Africa before you get employed. Therefore, you must provide a 3-month bank statement that meets the following requirements:

  • The bank statement must be stamped and the date on the stamp must not be older than 7 days on the day of submission.
  • Must have a monthly income.
  • The minimum balance must be enough to support you while you are in SA; i.e the bank account in question must maintain a minimum balance of at least R3000 over the 3 months.
  • It must be a current/checking account (not a savings or investment account (because these don’t typically have immediate access. I found out the hard way)

If the bank statement does not have your name on it (if you are using someone else’s bank statement) then you must also provide the following together with the bank statement:

  • A certified copy of the ID/Passport of the owner of the bank account.
  • A signed letter of undertaking by the owner of the bank account saying that they will be supporting you financially during your stay in South Africa.
  • (conditional) A certified copy of a valid visa or residence permit if the owner of the bank is a foreigner residing in South Africa. For example, if your uncle/friend has permanent residency in South Africa, you will need to provide a certified copy of their ID/Passport and permanent residency permit/certificate.
Lighthouse at Umhlanga Beach, Durban.
Lighthouse at Umhlanga Beach, Durban.

5. Get your proof of accommodation

You will need to provide proof of accommodation in South Africa. This could be in the form of a utility bill, lease agreement, etc. accompanied by a letter of undertaking from the host. You must also provide a certified copy of that host’s ID/Passport. If the host is not a citizen of South Africa, you will also need to provide a certified copy of their relevant visa or permanent residence certificate.

6. (Optional) Contract of Employment & other supporting documents

If you are applying for a Critical Skills Visa with a job offer, you will need to provide the following documents:

  • A signed Offer Letter.
  • Contract of Employment signed by both parties (each page must have your initials)
  • Letter of undertaking from the employer stating that they will ensure that your passport remains valid for the duration of your employment and they accept responsibility for deportation costs should it become necessary.

NB!! The job title on your offer letter and employment contract must be exactly the same as the title of the critical skill that you are applying for AND the critical skill (or profession) on the documents provided by your professional body.

Light-painting on the M3 Rhodes Drive, Rondebosch, Cape Town
Light-painting on the M3 Rhodes Drive, Rondebosch, Cape Town

7. Prepare miscellaneous supporting documents

The following are the remainder of the documents needed for your application:

  • Completed DHA-1738 form (handwritten not printed)
  • Passport with at least 2 blank pages and must expire no less than 30 days after the intended date of departure to SA.
  • Certified copy of your birth certificate.
  • 2 passport sized photos (see requirements)
  • An extract from the government gazette (just the one page with your critical skill on) with the critical skill you are applying for circled clearly.
  • Cover letter with your personal details (Name, Address, DOB, Contact details) specifying that you are applying for a Critical Skills Visa.
  • Medical Certificate (Use this form) This must be no older than 6 months at the time of submission.
  • Radiological report (Use this form) This must be no older than 6 months at the time of submission.
  • Police Clearance Certificate from every country that you have lived in for at least 12 months since you turned 18 years.
  • Updated CV.
  • At least 2 reference/recommendation/testimonial letters from previous employees.
  • Yellow Fever vaccination certificate if you will travel through or have been to a yellow fever region.
  • Academic qualifications (degrees, transcripts, certificates, etc.)

The following documents are conditional:

  • Marriage certificate or in the case of a foreign spousal relationship, proof of official recognition thereof issued by the authorities of the country concerned if available
  • The affidavit where a spousal relationship to a South African citizen or resident is applicable, as well as documentation proving cohabitation and the extent to which the related financial responsibilities are shared by the parties and setting out the particulars of children in the spousal relationship
  • Divorce decree, where applicable
  • Court order granting full or specific parental responsibilities and rights, where applicable
  • A death certificate, in respect of a late spouse, where applicable
  • Written consent from both parents and a court order granting full parental responsibilities and rights parent, where applicable
  • Proof of legal adoption where applicable
  • Legal separation order, where applicable

The following documents have already been addressed in the steps above:

  • (Optional) Contract of Employment signed by both parties if you have already secured employment
  • (Optional) A written undertaking by the employer accepting responsibility for the costs related to the deportation of the applicant and his or her dependent family members, should it become necessary and to ensure that the passport of his or her employee is valid at all times for the duration of his or her employment
  • A confirmation, in writing, from the professional body, council or board recognized by SAQA in terms of section 13(1)(i) of the National Qualifications Framework Act, or any relevant government Department confirming the skills Qualifications of the applicant and appropriate post qualification experience.
  • Proof of application for a certificate of registration with the professional body, council or board recognized by SAQA in terms of section 13(1)(i) of the National Qualifications Framework Act
  • Proof of evaluation of the foreign qualification by SAQA and translated by a sworn translator into English
  • Proof of accommodation
  • Proof of sufficient financial means (Bank statement)

For my own application, I added the following documents although they are not officially stated under the visa requirements. Several reliable sources told me it would increase my chances of getting the visa. I’m guessing it’s to show that I’m serious about working in SA?

  • A copy of my plane tickets with the departure date a month before my employment start date.
  • A copy of the hotel reservations I made for the first month I’ll be staying in South Africa.
Huguenot Memorial, Franschhoek
Huguenot Memorial, Franschhoek

8. Submit your Application

Depending on your country, you will have to submit your visa application at a South African Embassy or Consulate, or a VFS Centre. If you stay in any of the following countries, you will have to submit your Critical Skills Visa application at your nearest VFS Centre:

If your country is listed above, visit the VFS website for your country for more details on how to submit your application at your VFS centre. You will probably have to book an appointment online, pay a VFS fee and then when you go for your appointment you will be asked to pay another fee and that’s it!

If your country is not listed above, you will have to submit your Critical Skills Visa application at the nearest South African Embassy or Consulate. You will find a list of all South African Embassies on this page. Contact the embassy and ask for details on how to submit your visa application.

Black and White photo of Strand Beach
Strand Beach in Somerset West, Cape Town

9. Wait patiently while your visa application is being processed

Depending on your embassy, the situation at the Department of Home Affairs, time of the year, alignment of the stars and the mood of your ancestors, your visa may take as little as 3 weeks or up to 6 months to process. I’m from Zimbabwe and it takes 4-6 months to process this visa although there have been a few cases that took longer. Unfortunately, you cannot get a detailed status update on your visa application; sometimes they may contact you to ask for a document or two to proceed with the process.

NB: My visa took exactly 16 weeks to process.

NB: Some things to note

  • If you have questions regarding any part of this process, you can leave a comment on this article.
  • You can post queries on this ExpatForum which has many people who have been through the system and keen to help.
  • The job title on your offer letter and employment contract must be exactly the same as the title of the critical skill that you are applying for AND the critical skill (or profession) on the documents provided by your professional body.
  • Visa applications can be rejected for many reasons, some which can be trivial, so make sure you have your affairs in order. Some of these reasons that can be avoided include:
    • insufficient funds; where the bank statement you provided doesn’t show a monthly income or has a low balance, etc.
    • the occupation on your job offer or letter from your professional body does not correspond to the critical skill you applied for.
    • Not specifying which critical skill you applied for. This is why you need to include a cover letter AND an extract of the government gazette with critical skill you are applying for circled.
    • Not enough work experience; if your CV doesn’t show your experience, you left out reference letters or you did not include a letter from your professional body that shows that you have enough work experience and have a critical skill. Sometimes a membership certificate may not be enough depending on your critical skill.
  • If you get rejected, you can appeal and/or follow up with VFS or the Embassy to get more detailed reasons why your application was rejected. You should also make use of the forums I mentioned above (ExpatForum or Embassy-Finder)
Coloured Huts at Muizenburg
Coloured Huts at Muizenburg

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I’m Tino, an Electrical & Computer Engineering graduate (First Class Honours) from the University of Cape Town. I am consistently setting goals to grow myself while always striving for perfection in everything I do. I’m a software developer and on this website, you will find my blog, some of my projects, and my photography gallery.

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