Important changes to Permanent Residence immigration legislation

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White Paper on International Migration 2017

The White Paper on International Migration released in July 2017, launched a complete overhaul of the immigration system as we know it, in South Africa. You can expect some significant changes to take place over the next two years.

According to the Department of Home Affairs, the previous approach, set out in the White Paper released in 1999, was rather passive and restricted as opposed to managing the international migration system strategically. The result - no advancement in developing the country.

Some of the most striking observations are:

1. If you want to obtain citizenship in South Africa based on a number of years in the country, you have to do it swiftly.

2. If you are highly skilled or you would like to invest in South Africa by starting your own business, you are more than welcome.

3. Foreign students studying a subject on the critical skills list are desired and will be welcomed with open arms in South Africa.

The purpose of these changes is guided by South Africa's vision for 2030. A vision of welcoming international migration for the development of South Africa but also securing freedom, peace, and safety. Starting with the entry and departure of foreign nationals, developing regional integration and attracting foreigners with critical skills and those who want to invest in our country, it is evident that South Africa is in favour of migration.

While some changes will be made immediately, changes that require legal actions can take up to two years to come into effect.

The primary changes of the White Paper released July 2017:

1. Disconnecting the link between citizenship and permanent residence

It is evident that while foreigners might have permanent residence in South Africa, it shouldn't automatically give them the right to apply for citizenship by naturalization, no matter how long you've lived in the country. Should they wish to apply, they will have to appear in front of an advisory panel who will then take into account their skills and investment amount.

2. Replacement of permanent residency permits

In order to dismiss a misconception that foreign nationals have a constitutional right to citizenship in South Africa, the permanent residence permit will no longer exist and will be replaced by a long-term residence visa. The new residence visa, along with being reviewable, will be available to business visa holders, critical skills holders as well as relatives.

3. Introducing a points-based work permit system

Since South Africa hasn't been successful in attracting many skilled foreigners in the past, the white paper suggests a points-based system. Foreigners will score points on qualifications, age, investment amount, work experience, type of business and also the ability to transfer skills to South Africans, either through direct training programs or through a levy on employers.

For investors wanting to set up their own business in South Africa, there was some good news. A more liberal approach to the current 5 million Rand investment will be implemented to make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to open a business.

4. Permanent resident permits for students

International students studying subjects that are listed on the critical skills list will be granted permanent resident permits after graduation in hopes that they will settle in South Africa and contribute to the economy.

5. International migration management within Africa

Regional integration of the countries in the South African Development Community as well as the African Union will be highly regarded. It will be less challenging for fellow Africans to obtain a work visa since additional points will be given. Another factor that is clear is that visa-free travel within Africa will be prioritised in the future.