The South African Department of Home Affairs issued a confidential directive in December 2011 that seeks to regulate the issue of short-term work authorizations. It has supplemented that directive in recent weeks with policy guidelines on the same subject. The holders of visa-exempt passports (for example, U.S., Canadian, and European Union (EU) passports) are most affected.
Generally speaking, persons traveling on visa-exempt passports receive a visitor permit that is valid for three months upon arriving at a South African port of entry, unless they already hold some other residence status. It was often not realized that this visitor permit allowed the holder only to visit, not work.
Immigration legislation did, however, allow for persons needing to enter the Republic to work, so long as the work was for no longer than three months. This special category of visitor permit could be obtained upon arrival at a port of entry, so long as the passport was visa-exempt. This type of permit was intended principally for film crews, performing artists, models and support staff, counsel needing to consult with clients, and other such legitimate short-term deployments.
Until recently, the practice had been that upon presentation of a letter from the offshore employer asking for such short-term work authorization, this subcategory of visitor permit would be issued at the port of entry for a period of three months. However, the ease with which this could be done led to considerable abuse. There were instances of people actually working in the Republic on these visitor permits for years by "commuting" home every three months. This, it was thought, allowed the employer to bypass the requirements for an ordinary work permit. The Department of Home Affairs views such practice as immigration fraud.
The new regime has a number of key features. A well-motivated representation must be submitted in writing to the Director General of Home Affairs at least 10 days before the person is scheduled to arrive in South Africa. The Director General must approve the request in writing, and the employee must submit that approval to the port of entry upon arrival. This permit may only be obtained at a port of entry or at an embassy. The permit will not be extended; anyone needing to stay and work for longer than 90 days must instead apply for an appropriate work permit.