Answer to a question from a reader

How can I get legal permission to work in South Africa?

The short answer

Legal permission to work in South Africa is accessed by getting a visa. In you case it can be a relatives visa, spousal visa or life partner visa

The whole question

Dear Athalie

How I, a Zimbabwean man, can get a visa to be able to stay in South Africa and care for my seven-month-old child and her mother, when my critical skills visa expires in March and I cannot renew it as the skills list was changed this year.

The long answer

There are three possible visas:

  • Relatives visa;

  • Spousal visa;

  • Life partner visa.

The Relatives visa:

You can apply for a relative’s visa if you are first kin (i.e. a parent or a spouse) to a South African. This is a temporary visa, usually issued for about two years. It is like a long tourist visa. You are not allowed to work and your South African partner has to be your sponsor and prove that they can support you in an amount of at least R8,500 per month. Thus, it may not be appropriate for you, as you need to support your partner and baby. 

Apart from the application form, the following documents have to be submitted for the relatives’ visa:

  • Your passport, which is required to have at least one blank page for the insertion of the permit/visa;

  • A yellow fever vaccination certificate, if applicable;

  • Payment of the application fee (not required where the applicant is a spouse or dependent child of a South African citizen/permanent resident);

  • A statement and/or documentation showing the purpose and duration of your visit (temporary residence visa applications);

  • Proof of the relative’s relationship, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates etc;

  • Police clearance certificate from each country in which you resided for 12 months or longer since the age of 18 years;

  • Medical and radiology reports;

  • The ID book and/or passport that proves the South African relative is indeed a citizen or permanent residency holder; and

  • Documentation that proves the availability of at least R8,500 per month per person for financial assurance (a waiver can be applied for spouses or dependent minor children of a South African citizen/permanent resident to waive the minimum financial requirements). notes that “The spouses, life partners and children (minor or major) of South African citizens and permanent residents can submit their relative visa applications in South Africa from a visitor’s visa, following the issuance of Directive 7 of 2019, implemented in July 2019.

"Unfortunately, this does not extend to parents of South Africans. Parents and other eligible relatives must submit their visa applications at an embassy or consulate abroad.”

You can apply for a relative’s permit, which is a permanent residence permit where you are allowed to work, study, or set up a business, but it can take a long time for this to be issued (normally about two years) and in the meantime you would have to keep applying for the temporary relative’s visa.

The Spousal Visa:

You can apply for a temporary spousal visa if you are married to a South African citizen or permanent resident. The spousal visa is normally given for two to three years. You are not allowed to work on the temporary visa but you can get the visa endorsed to allow you to work or study or start a business. The documents you have to submit are the following:

  • A marriage certificate;

  • Proof of your South African spouse’s citizenship or residence;

  • A letter of support from your South African spouse;

  • Proof of good health and standing;

  • A completed temporary residency application form.

If you have been married for more than five years, you can apply for a spousal permit which is a permanent residence permit. That means you can work or study or start a business. But even if you qualify for a spousal permit, it can take two years for Home Affairs to issue it, so it might be safer to apply for the temporary spousal visa first. 

The Life Partner Visa:

Intergate Immigration notes that with a spousal visa you can simply prove the relationship with a marriage certificate, but it’s harder to prove the relationship for a life partner visa. Home Affairs says that “such relationship must be intended to be permanent, exclude any other person and involve cohabitation, an obligation of mutual emotional support between the parties and a reciprocal obligation to support one another financially …” 

Besides proving that there is both an emotional and financial bond, you would also need to provide affidavits or letters of support from family and friends, attesting to your relationship.  

You would need to prove that you share financial responsibilities, like bond or rent, electricity payments, etc. You would need to open a joint bank account to show that you will not become a burden on the state.

You can apply for endorsements to the life partner visa for work and study once you have got the visa. You are advised to renew it at least 20 to 24 weeks before it expires because if the visa expires, you could be deported and banned from re-entering the country for five years. Home Affairs is ordinarily very slow and currently, it could take 20 weeks to process from the date of submission in South Africa.

You can apply from South Africa if you have a visitor’s visa (generally issued for 90 days). Presumably you can apply from South Africa on your critical skills visa, as long as that is valid.

These are the documents you would have to submit:

  • Valid passport with at least two free pages and valid for 30 days after the end of your visit;

  • Photocopy of any temporary residence visas in the passport;

  • Proof of your relationship and that you have lived together for two years before submitting the visa application;

  • A joint bank account;

  • Proof of a minimum of R8,500 per month per person;

  • Police clearance certificates from any country you’ve lived in for a year or more since the age of 18;

  • Documentation proving cohabitation and the extent to which the related financial responsibilities are shared by the parties;

  • Medical Certificate – not older than 6 months from date of issuance;

  • Radiological Report – not older than 6 months from date of issuance.

Since VFS Facilitation Centres started managing the submission process of all visas and permits for Home Affairs in 2014, Home Affairs officials do not generally conduct interviews, so you may not be asked to undergo an interview to prove the validity of your relationship.

But if Home Affairs has any doubts about the relationship at any stage, they could still request an interview. 

After five years of the life partner visa, you can apply for permanent residence if the relationship is ongoing.

Intergate Immigration says that it can take up to three years for Home Affairs to process life partner visa applications for permanent residence. So it is advisable to apply for a temporary visa in the meantime.

It seems to me (from the outside, of course) that the simplest one to apply for would be the spousal visa, if you were married.

Wishing you the best,

Answered on Dec. 7, 2022, 12:06 p.m.

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