A variety of Visa Compliance Options are available to South African businesses

By 31 December 2022, qualifying Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) workers will need to have successfully transferred their permit to applicable mainstream visas to ensure that they can remain and work legally in the country. What's more, non-qualifying ZEP holders will have to leave the country as they would then be regarded as illegal immigrants.

In 2021, the Home Affairs Minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi announced that South Africa would not be renewing the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits and approved a grace period to the end of 2022 to allow qualifying ZEP holders to transfer their status to other mainstream visas.

With the end of the grace period fast approaching, South African business owners with ZEP holders in their employ are, understandably, in a state of panic as they grasp the reality that they may lose large portions of their staff complement. However, despite the ‘hysterical' headlines created by some labour and industry organisations, it is not all doom and gloom for South African business owners. This is because the country's Immigration Act provides for other types of visa options to which qualifying applicants can be transferred.

Employers will need to comply with the Act and ensure that, come December 2022, all employees in their employ are in the country under legal and valid South African visas. While illegal immigrants can be deported back to their country of origin, business owners caught employing illegal immigrants will be liable to pay fines, and possibly even imprisoned.

It is crucial that South African business owners who do not want to lose their Zimbabwean employees – whose particular service contributions often represent a substantial component of the goodwill that vests within those businesses – do everything necessary to assist their staff in moving to a suitable mainstream visa in compliance with the Immigration Act.

There is a wide range of mainstream visa options available to qualifying applicants, including:

  • General work visa
  • Critical skills visa
  • Study visa
  • Relatives visa
  • Spousal / Life Partner visa
  • Volunteer visa
  • Accompanying visa
  • Retired person visa
  • Business visa

In initiating their immigration compliance processes, employers are encouraged to engage suitably qualified attorneys and immigration consultants to assist them with ensuring their qualifying employees remain legally in the country. Such professionals will be able to advise employers on the correct visa applicable to each employee as it would be detrimental to a qualifying applicant if he or she applies under the wrong visa category. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.