• Visitor's Visas

    Visitor's Visas

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Visitor's Visas

Visitor's Visas

The Visitor’s Visa category is the most diverse visa category, as the visa is issued for many different and specific purposes for which the Immigration Act does not provide a specific, alternative visa category. What differentiates the visas issued within this category is the sub-section of the Immigration Act in terms of which it is issued and the conditions endorsed on the visa label. Generally, Visitor’s Visas can be divided into two broad sub-categories:

Short-term visas

for up to 3 months in the first instance and renewable for a maximum of a further 3 months from within South Africa.

      1. Business visitors and other general visits.
      2. Short-term work (Section 11(2)).

Long-term visas

for up to 3 years in the first instance for specific activities which are also renewable.

      1. Work/study/self-employment: Spouse of S.A. citizen or permanent resident (Section 11(6)).
      2. Dependent family members of visa holders.
      3. Academic sabbaticals, voluntary or charitable work and research.
      4. Other specific activities:
          • designated crew in relation to the production of films and advertisements in South Arica;
          • foreign journalists representing foreign new agencies;
          • visiting professors, lecturers and academic researchers;
          • artists wishing to write, paint or sculpt; and
          • tour leader or host.

1. Business visitors and other general visits

A short-term visitor to South Africa for the purposes such as, but not limited to a family visit, vacation, tourism, general business activities (which do not constitute work) for up to 3 months in the first instance requires a Visitor’s Visa.

As with all countries, certain nationalities do not require a visa prior to travel and may be issued the Visitor’s Visa upon arrival in the country valid for 30 or 90 days. The duration of visa granted upon arrival depends on the applicable visa exemption/visa waiver which is decided by the DHA in respect of each country. For example, a British (U.K.) passport holder is visa exempt/visa waiver for a period of 90 days, whereas a Turkish passport holder is only visa exempt for 30 days.

Other nationalities, such as, but not limited to Indian and Chinese nationals and many others, do require a visa prior to travel, as they are not included in the DHA’s visa exemption/visa waiver program; this visa is known as a Port of Entry Visa (P.O.E. Visa) and it is always issued by the South African Consular Mission abroad, prior to travel. When arriving in South Africa with a P.O.E. Visa, the holder will be issued with a Visitor’s Visa by the Immigration Office, subject to meeting normal entry requirements.

In both instances, the Visitor’s Visa may be renewed for a maximum of a further 3 months from within South Africa; this involves a formal visa renewal application being timeously submitted in person at one of the Visa Application Centres which are located in each province across South Africa. The application must be submitted no less than 60 days before the expiry of the initial 3-month Visitor’s Visa. If the Visitor’s Visa was issued for less than 3 months, then renewal application must be submitted no less than 7 days before the expiry. It is very important to check if a P.O.E. Visa is required before planning a trip to South Africa. Also, it is important to bear in mind that a visa renewal is not guaranteed - it is at the discretion of the DHA.

For those who normally require a P.O.E. Visa prior to travel and who are only going to be transiting directly through South Africa, arriving on a flight at O.R Tambo, Lanseria, Cape Town, King Shaka International Airports and departing on another flight without leaving the airport building, the DHA has recently abolished the requirement for a Transit Visa and it will capture the bio-metrics of the traveller upon arrival in country. This does not apply to land transits through South Africa or in instances where a foreign national will not directly transit through South Africa without leaving the Airport Transit Area. This must also be carefully checked before travel as requirements are subject to change without notice. It might be interesting to note that there is actually a hotel located in the Terminal A Transit Area at O.R. Tambo International Airport, thus allowing travellers who cannot catch an immediate connecting flight to their final destination to stay overnight without the need to leave the Airport Transit Area, which would necessitate a visa.

The holder of a Visitor’s Visa may not apply to change/adjust his/her status from within South Africa to another visa category; this is strictly prohibited by law.

2. Short-term work (Section 11(2))

In certain instances, when a foreign national is only required to conduct specific work in South Africa for a limited period of up to 3 months in the first instance, an employer may defer to Section 11(2) of the Immigration Act to secure the foreign national permission to conduct work in South Africa on a Visitor’s Visa. We refer to this as a Visitor’s Visa 11(2). Below are some general important points to note:

  1. The Visitor’s Visa 11(2) is not another category of Work Visa and it should not be considered as a way to avoid obtaining a Work Visa.
  2. The visa category is not intended to provide for ongoing work and/or employment in South Africa, as provided for by work visa categories; it is generally intended to provide for limited, specific work in South Africa in instances where a foreign national does not qualify for a work visa.
  3. Section 11(2) is also not a visa category in itself - rather, it refers to an authorisation which allows for work on a Visitor’s Visa and it is noted under the visa conditions of the Visitor’s Visa.

There are many different short-term work activities which can fall within the ambit of Section 11(2) and these must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Some classic examples include short-term project workers employed outside of South Africa performing specific specialist functions on a project in South Africa, technicians required to install or repair equipment or machinery and the like.

There is a very fine line between what might be deemed a business visit (for which a Section 11(2) work authorisation is not required) and a work visit (for which a Section 11(2) work authorisation is required).

The most important rules for companies to remember is when a foreign national is deemed by law to be working in South Africa. In summary, the Immigration Act defines “work” as conducting any activity normally associated with the running of a specific business or being employed or conducting activities consistent with being employed or consistent with the profession of the person, with or without remuneration or reward, within South Africa. The definition of work is clearly extremely restrictive and this often results in foreign nationals working illegally in the country, placing themselves and their South African host at risk.

Unfortunately, the Immigration Act only defines “work” and not “business”; therefore, companies should use their discretion carefully. It might be said that, as soon as a foreign national intends to conduct activities in South Africa, which activities constitute an extension of their foreign employment and/or their profession within South Africa, he/she is deemed to be working and must be in possession of a work Visitor’s Visa 11(2). This must be carefully assessed on a case-by-case basis and we shall gladly assist with this.

To obtain the Visitor’s Visa 11(2), visa waiver/exempt and non-visa waiver/exempt foreign nationals alike must apply for a Port of Entry Visa (P.O.E. Visa) at the South Africa Mission abroad prior to travel. The visa waiver/exemption described above in relation to business visitors does not extend to cover work activities. The P.O.E. Visa will specify that permission to work in terms of Section 11(2) has been approved and that the foreign national may be admitted to South Africa upon arrival on a Visitor’s Visa 11(2).

Applications must be strongly motivated and clearly explain the purpose or necessity of the work, the nature of the work, qualifications and skills required for the work, duration of the work, place of work and other key information which we shall advise on.

The Visitor’s Visa 11(2) is only granted for up to 3 months in the first instance and renewals for a further maximum period of up to 3 months from within South Africa might be accommodated in specific circumstances and are solely at the discretion of the DHA. There are risks with renewal applications which must be discussed on a case-by-case basis.

The holder of a Visitor’s Visa 11(2) may not apply to change/adjust his/her status from within South Africa to another visa category; this is strictly prohibited by law.

3. Work / study / self-employment: Spouse of S.A. citizen or permanent resident (Section 11(6))

A spouse, by definition in the Immigration Act, includes parties to a legal marriage, a civil union, a customary union or a permanent spousal relationship. Unmarried same-sex/opposite-sex parties to permanent spousal relationships are treated equally; however, they are required to prove the existence of the relationship for a period of at least 2 years prior to the date of application. For the purpose of simplicity, when we refer to “spouse” below, it means all of the aforementioned categories of persons.

Section 11(6) of the Immigration Act provides for spouses of South African citizens and Permanent Residents to be authorised to conduct activities that would normally require a particular visa contemplated in the Immigration Act (i.e. a Work Visa, Study Visa or Business Visa) on a Visitor’s Visa.

This is known as a Visitor’s Visa 11(6) (also often referred to as a “spousal work visa”) and, once issued, it grants the spouse the same permission to pursue employment, study or pursue self-employment that a Work Visa, Study Visa or Business Visa would without him/her having to meet all of the stringent and often onerous legal requirements of any of the aforementioned categories, which in many instances he/she might not be able to meet. This is different to a Relative’s Visa which only allows the spouse to reside in South Africa and does not allow him/her to conduct any other activities.

The purpose of the Visitor’s Visa 11(6) is to enable foreign spouses of South African citizen/permanent residents who, in their own right, would normally not qualify for a visa, i.e. a work visa or business visa to be economically active and/or further their studies with ease in South Africa.

The visa is entirely conditional on the continued existence of the spousal relationship and it can be applied for once the spouse has documentary evidence of the activity which he/she wishes to be authorised to undertake (employment, self-employment, study, etc.). The visa is issued primarily on the basis of the spouse being the spouse of a South African citizen or permanent resident and then on the basis of the specific activity which she/he wishes to undertake. The visa does not automatically allow the spouse to conduct any activity and he/she must comply with the visa conditions which must be adjusted/changed, if necessary, if the activity which he/she wishes to conduct changes.

The spouse holding a visa is legally required to apply for permanent residence status within 3 months from his/her 5th wedding/relationship anniversary (in terms of Section 26(b) of the Immigration Act). If the spouse has already been married/involved for 5 years, he/she may apply for permanent residence immediately. The DHA does not appear to strictly enforce this legal requirement.

4. Dependent family members of visa holders

Accompanying dependants in this context are limited to foreign spouses and dependent children of visa holders. They may be issued Visitor’s Visas to allow them to accompany a visa holder to South Africa. A Visitor’s Visa in the context, which is issued in terms of Section 11(1)(b)(iv) of the Immigration Act, only entitles the dependant to reside with the visa holder in South Africa; it does not entitle him/her to work or study in the country.

Not all visa categories allow for accompanying dependants. Typically, only the undermentioned visa categories allow for accompanying dependants in respect of the main visa holder:

Visitor’s Visa, Study Visa, Treaty Visa, Business Visa, Medical Treatment Visa, Relative’s Visa, Work Visa, Retired Persons Visa and Exchange Visa.

The visa may be issued for up to 3 years in the first instance and it is renewable from within South Africa, subject to the renewal of the main visa holder’s visa. The spouse or dependent child of a Critical Skills Work Visa holder may be issued a visa for up to 5 years (in line with the main work visa holder’s visa).

An accompanying dependent child required to attend an appropriately registered school in South Africa requires a Study Visa. If the child is already enrolled at a school in South Africa prior to arrival in South Africa, then he/she should apply for the Study Visa abroad in the first instance. If, however, the child is not yet enrolled at any school in South Africa or if such enrolment can only be confirmed after arrival in South Africa or if he/she will only reach school-going age after arriving in South Africa, he/she may apply for a Visitor’s Visa as an accompanying dependant initially. He/she may then apply to change the status to a Study Visa from within South Africa.

A spouse wishing to study in South Africa at any higher educational institution or appropriately registered learning institution must apply for a Study Visa to legally allow him/her to do so. This involves a separate application which may be submitted from within South Africa to the DHA at the relevant provincial Visa Application Centre and the Study Visa must be issued prior to taking up studies.

A spouse wishing to pursue employment in South Africa requires a work visa for which he/she will have to qualify in his/her own right. The category of work visa for a spouse to pursue depends largely on his/her qualifications, skills and experience. Spouses who are not qualified or do not have specific and/or a reasonable degree of professional working experience might not easily qualify for a work visa. Certain concessions might apply in respect of the spouse of a Critical Skills Work Visa; however, this is yet to be clarified by the DHA. We’ll gladly conduct a free assessment of work visa options or find out further information on the available work visa options here.

5. Academic sabbaticals, voluntary or charitable activities and research

Foreign nationals who wish to pursue an academic sabbatical, conduct voluntary or charitable activities or conduct research may issued a Visitor’s Visas valid for up to 3 years to do so. These Visitor’s Visas are issued in terms of Section 11(1)(b)(i), (ii) or (iii) of the Immigration Act respectively.

In all instances, in addition to application requirements on and providing sufficient formal documentary evidence as proof of the intended activity (which varies and which we shall advise on), the foreign national will have to prove adequate financial means to fully support himself/herself for the duration of his/her stay.

Those who wish to conduct voluntary or charitable activities must note that this visa category is not intended to provide for directly or indirectly remunerated work/employment, albeit for a good cause/philanthropic endeavour. Applications submitted in this category are often subject to heightened scrutiny by the DHA.

6. Other Specific Activities

Visitor’s Visas may be issued for up to 3 years for the purposes of the undermentioned specific activities in respect of foreign nationals who, where applicable, are conducting work for a foreign employer pursuant to a contract which partially requires conducting certain activities in South Africa. These Visitor’s Visas are issued in terms of Section 11(1)(b)(iv) of the Immigration Act:

  • designated crew in relation to the production of films and advertisements in South Arica;
  • foreign journalists representing foreign new agencies;
  • visiting professors, lecturers and academic researchers;
  • artists wishing to write, paint or sculpt;
  • tour leader or host; and
  • persons involved in the entertainment industry travelling through South Africa to perform.

In all instances, in addition to application requirements, relevant and sufficient formal documentary evidence as proof of the intended activity must be provided (which varies and which we shall advise on).

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