BLSA CEO Letter – 3 April 2023
POSTED ON: April 3, 2023 IN by Admin
BLSA has been working hard with government to fix our visa regime. But last week, I felt like we were making very little progress at all. Some 56,000 foreigners working or intending to work in South Africa were facing having their visas cancelled at the end of March, purely because Home Affairs has been unable to process their applications. They were given a last-minute reprieve – two days before the deadline – extending the validity of their existing status until the end of the year.
This is appalling. People’s lives are thrown into turmoil, unable to know whether they would be allowed to stay in the country many consider home. More to the point, it presents an impossible situation for business. While as a country we profess to welcome businesses from around the world to invest and station their regional activities in South Africa, for company executives from Paris to Mumbai, the uncertainty created by the administrative chaos is a massive turnoff. If a company is considering the location of their regional headquarters, how does South Africa compare to competitors such as Dubai?
That last minute reprieve is of little use to thousands more around the world who have been waiting for visa applications to be processed, and similarly caught up in Home Affairs disfunction. This uncertainty creates upheaval in people’s lives. A senior executive looking to set up in South Africa may need to move his or her family, requiring timing that fits the education calendar. So, it is not just the challenge of being stuck in Houston or Tokyo when you are meant to be setting up a new operation in South Africa, it is the ripple effects on families who cannot plan.
This is just not acceptable. These visa administration problems are well recognised as a serious impediment to our economy. We have major skills deficits in many areas, including the technical skills needed to build and maintain our factories, water infrastructure and power plants. We need to give international companies the sense that they are welcome in South Africa and the confidence to plan on investments here without the fear that they will simply be unable to send their people because we cannot manage our own bureaucracy.
If we are to be a welcoming destination for skilled professionals, we need to welcome their families too. They must be able to send their kids to schools where they will be able to further their home curricula. They should be comfortable that they will have access to healthcare and safe and secure housing. They need an ecosystem that is attractive. And that can mean welcoming in support staff too who are able to teach the language and curriculum of home or provide other key services.
The challenges we still face on the visa front are despite some good and productive work done by Operation Vulindlela in the Presidency. Fixing the visa regime is a priority focus for OV, and there has been progress in revising the scarce skills list and getting eVisas to work for tourists from certain markets. And there have also been interventions by Invest SA, which does excellent work to promote SA as an investment destination and unlock problems that potential investors encounter. Those interventions to accelerate visa processing have been key to concluding some large deals. But while such ad hoc support is important, it is no substitute for an efficient and effective visa regime that gives confidence to foreigners that they can plan and rely on the state to deliver on its own policies.
Next week the president will be hosting the fifth South Africa Investment Conference, which is aimed to attract foreign investment to the country. The president could use the opportunity to announce a credible intervention to fix the visa mess. That would go far to addressing one of the major sources of a lack of confidence in South Africa’s investment case. The OV team has made good progress. They can be empowered to go deeper and further in not only fixing the bureaucracy, but overhauling the whole visa regime so it fits the needs of the modern and dynamic economy that South Africa should be. Organised business is eager to help.
BLSA is a business organisation that believes in South Africa’s future and shares the values set out in the Constitution. In 2017, BLSA signed a contract with South Africa, committing business to playing its part in creating a South Africa of increasing prosperity for all by harnessing the resources and capabilities of business in partnership with government and civil society to deliver economic growth, transformation and inclusion.
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