Since the legislative amendments of July 2005, "work" is defined to include "any activity consistent with being employed or consistent with the profession of the person, with or without reward". This means that any such activity requires the appropriate permit in order to be conducted legally in South Africa.
Persons wishing to seek or take up employment in South Africa continue to require a formal work permit. There is a choice of various categories of work authorisations and permits, which is to be made according to the type and duration of the post as well as to the applicant’s qualifications and/or experience.
Authorisation to Work
The wider definition of "work" includes many activities that could previously be conducted while being in possession of an ordinary visitor's permit. This applies to short-term project work on behalf of a non-South African employer, unpaid internships or seasonal work in the hospitality or film industries for example. In these cases a so-called "authorisation to work" may be obtained, which is linked to a visitor's permit and far less onerous to obtain than the formal work permit.
General Work Permit
The most commonly known work permit type is the so-called "general work permit". Here, the prospective employer needs to motivate his need for the foreign applicant’s specific qualifications, skills or experience and to submit proof of his efforts to recruit a local candidate (amongst other things by way of an advertisement of the position in a specific format). Further, the applicant’s qualifications need to be evaluated by the South African evaluation authorities (SAQA Evaluation), which is a time-consuming and costly exercise. Also a salary benchmarking needs to be obtained to show that the foreigner will not be paid below the local standards.
Quota Work Permit
The quotas and list of professional categories for the "quota work permit" published in March 2006 came as a disappointment to those expecting it to be as flexible as its predecessor. It was updated in 2007, whereby -most importantly- Call Centre Managers were included and IT professionals excluded (see also News Article on New Quotas). However, those who fall within its specialised categories and can prove at least five years' work experience in their field, may obtain a work permit with substantially less onerous requirements than those of the general work permit. Here, the employer does not need to motivate and prove that the position cannot be filled by a South African citizen or permanent resident. Of particular interest is the fact that a quota work permit can be issued even if no job offer has been made to the applicant yet. A binding contract is to be submitted to the Department within 90 days. The applicant’s qualifications need to be evaluated by the South African evaluation authorities (SAQA), which is costly and time-consuming.
Find the complete updated quotas and list below:
Persons with exceptional skills or qualifications can be granted an "exceptional skills work permit" purely on the grounds of those skills or qualifications and independently of a particular job offer or position to be taken. The term "exceptional" is not defined in the legislation. However, the skills need to be proven by a prescribed set of documents, which are not easily available to most applicants.
In the case of secondments or transfers of employees between branches, related or affiliated companies, a so-called "intra-company transfer permit" may be applied for. The requirements for this type of permit are lower and the process around it is less onerous than in the other work permit categories, but the permit is restricted to a period of 2 years and cannot easily be extended. In terms of the latest draft legislation, the time of promulgation of which is uncertain, the period will be extended to 4 years.
Corporate Worker Permit
Persons wishing to take up employment with an organisation that is in possession of a corporate permit may apply for a "corporate worker permit". The requirements are very basic in comparison to most other work permit categories.
Spouses or Life Partners of South Africans
Spouses or life partners (hetero- or homosexual) of South African citizens or residents, who are supported by their partners, may obtain a work authorisation without having to meet the onerous requirements of the formal work permits.
Voluntary or Charitable Activity
Persons wishing to take up charitable or voluntary activities in South Africa (typically with a non-profit, religious or other charitable organisation) can obtain an extended visitor’s permit for a period of up to 3 years, which authorises them to conduct this type of work. It seems to be within the nature and general definition of such activities that they may not be remunerated, or else a work permit would be required.
Permanent Residence - Work
In some of the above-mentioned cases the applicant may also qualify for permanent residence. It may be granted if the applicant has been in possession of a work permit for at least 5 years and been made an offer of permanent employment. Work authorisations issued to spouses or life partners of South Africans do not count as "work permits" for this purpose.
In another permit category, permanent residence is open to persons who fall within certain professional categories. However, the relevant categories have not been published since 2005, and thus no such applications can be made at this point in time.
Permanent residence on the grounds of exceptional skills may be applied for immediately without a work offer.
In the case of voluntary or charitable activities a permanent residence permit may not be granted.