Answer to a question from a reader

Can I apply for a work permit even if I am unemployed?

The short answer

You could apply for a critical skills permit or a general work permit (if you get a job offer).

The whole question

Dear Athalie

I lost my job due to the pandemic in 2020 but I am a semi-skilled auto-electrician with a certificate from the Polytechnic Institute Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. I still want to stay in South Africa.

The long answer

Getting the general work permit is difficult. You have to have an offer from an employer and a certificate from the Department of Labour certifying that “despite a diligent search, the prospective employer has been unable to find a suitable South African citizen or permanent resident with requisite qualifications or skills and experience equivalent to those of the applicant”.

The critical skills visa is issued for five years and, once issued, a person can apply for permanent residence if they have five years of work experience and the necessary proof. To apply, you need to be working in the same profession as the one on the critical skills list, or have received a job offer from an employer. You also need to be registered with a professional body, council or board, have an appropriate qualification and a SAQA (South African Qualifications Authority) certificate. 

I looked up auto-electrics in the updated critical skills list in the Government Gazette of 2 February 2022, and the following entries were the closest I got to it (I have bolded the ones I thought might be most relevant to you):

  • 50: Electrical engineering technologist: analyses and modifies new and existing electrical engineering technologies and applies them in the testing and implementation of electrical engineering products. 

Diploma or advanced certificate (NQF level 6)

Recognised by professional Body, Council or board as contemplated by SAQA in section 18 (5) a or 18 (5) b 

  • 88: Electronic engineering technician: conducts tests of electronic systems, collects and analyses data and assembles circuitry in support of electronic engineers and engineering technologists. 

Diploma or advanced certificate (NQF level 6)

Recognised by professional Body, Council or board as contemplated by SAQA in section 18 (5) a or 18 (5) b as applicable.

  • 99: Electrical equipment mechanic: services and repairs electrical equipment and household appliances.

Intermediate certificate (NQF level 3)

Recognised by professional Body, Council or board as contemplated by SAQA in section 18 (5) a or 18 (5) b as applicable.

  • 100: Transportation electrician: installs, maintains and repairs electrical wiring in motorised vehicles.

National certificate (NQF level 4)

  • 101: Instrument mechanician (Industrial instrumentation and process control): installs, modifies, maintains and repairs electronic instruments and control systems.

Intermediate Certificate (NQF level 3)

Intergate Immigration says that the critical skills list is broken down into three requirement areas:

  1. The classification regarding the education subject matter (what you are qualified in);

  2. The relevant Occupation/Critical Skill;

  3. The Requirements pertaining to such things as memberships, experience and qualifications.

Only applicants who meet all three criteria will be successful in their application.

I have included the following tips for automotive electricians applying for a critical skills visa from New World Immigration

“To successfully register with a professional body, the applicant must prove at least 3-5 years’ experience in the following tasks:

  • Taking readings, using a laptop or hand-held device connected to an engine's electronic control unit (found in newer vehicles)
  • Checking and testing wiring and parts in older vehicles using portable instruments
  • Using the readings to find faults
  • Researching faults, using manufacturers' circuit diagrams and specification manuals
  • Repairing or replacing faulty parts 
  • Retesting the system to make sure everything is working correctly and safely (this may include road testing the vehicle)
  • Filling out a repair sheet detailing the work you have done.”

SAQA says, “The SAQA Certificate of Evaluation (SCoE) indicates the recognition decision taken by SAQA in respect of a foreign qualification and the comparability of that qualification with a South African qualification registered on the NQF.”

A further problem for you may also be that it is far from cheap to go through the SAQA evaluation of foreign qualifications. In all it can easily amount to over R2,000, which is non-refundable. 

It might be worth seeking advice and assistance from one of the following organisations:

  • Lawyers for Human Rights (Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme) at Johannesburg: 011 339 1960. Email:;

  • Legal Resources Centre: Email:;

  • PASSOP: Cape Town: 021 762 0322

Wishing you the best,

Answered on Sept. 2, 2022, 12:32 p.m.

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