Deepening Democracy through Access to Information
Home / News / All News RSS ← Back

Email this article

separate emails by commas, maximum limit of 4 addresses

Sponsored by


Article Enquiry

Visa backlogs causing critical skills deficit, undermining economy


Embed Video

Visa backlogs causing critical skills deficit, undermining economy

BLSA CEO Busi Mavuso
BLSA CEO Busi Mavuso

13th November 2023

By: Darren Parker
Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online


Font size: -+

A lack of critical skills is holding back the South African economy, Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) CEO Busi Mavuso has said, adding that the country is not solving the problem as fast as it should be.  

In her weekly newsletter on November 13, she pointed to Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s admission to news service Bloomberg earlier this month that there was a backlog of 74 000 applications for all kinds of visas.  


However, he denied that there was a work permit backlog for critical skills applications. 

This despite the efforts needing to be made by government, led by the Operation Vulindlela (OV) programme, to drive the implementation of policies that will substantially improve access to scarce skills visas. 


“The backlog is staggering, a number in line with the headcount of some of South Africa’s biggest companies. If those skills were to suddenly be working in our economy, the impact would be significant. The fact that companies can’t fill the positions means they can’t invest and expand,” Mavuso said, adding that expansion would contribute to further employment creation, more tax being generated and the overall business environment being greatly improved. 

“The Presidency has estimated that one additional job is created for every skilled post that is filled. I have been told anecdotally by companies that service has improved from Home Affairs, but the backlog remains a problem to get on top of,” Mavuso said. 

The Presidency has previously said that access to visas is the second biggest constraint on the economy after loadshedding, with new policies including the introduction of a trusted employer scheme that will allow certain companies to fast-track applications.  

Home Affairs said in April that it would have the scheme in place in three months. Mavuso noted that, while there had been progress, with application forms published in October, no company was yet benefiting from the scheme and there did not appear to be a clear timeline for when they would.  

Home Affairs has also missed deadlines for other visa reforms, including remote working visas to enable digital nomads to work from South Africa and visas for founders of startups that choose to launch their companies in South Africa. 

“I appreciate that some policy reforms can be challenging, requiring legislative amendments and changes to regulations in multiple domains. But not all are so difficult. Remote workers, for example, can be changed simply by revising the immigration regulations, a relatively straightforward process,” Mavuso said. 

However, she added that, even when improved policy outcomes were delivered, the backlog would still be a problem.  

“It appears to be fundamentally administrative, in that Home Affairs simply does not have the capacity to process the applications. That needs a long-term fix that must be made by the department, with appropriate resourcing to manage the load. But there is clearly a need for a short-term stopgap to get on top of long-outstanding applications,” Mavuso said. 

She emphasised that business could help, noting that the private sector had extensive administrative capacity that could be drawn on to process the backlog.  

“While the procedures to do so would need to be determined, and staff capacity will need to be built through some training, the backlog could be resolved in a matter of months. The right technology could also be brought in to improve processing, given that Home Affair’s computers work at roughly one-sixtieth the speed of those in most banks,” she said.  

Mavuso noted that, in much the way that business had assisted government with technical skills to resolve infrastructure breakdowns ranging from sewerage treatment plants through to electricity stations, the visa backlog could be tackled through a partnership between business and government.  

“It is certainly a possibility worth exploring. Business has a clear incentive to find a solution. The inability to bring in foreign skills risks pushing many companies out of South Africa entirely,” Mavuso said. 

She noted that South Africa had long marketed itself as a “gateway to Africa”, attracting companies to set up their regional headquarters in the country.  

“Yet many companies who have done so now encounter extreme frustration bringing in the skills they need to operate. They would have no such problem had they opted instead to set up in Dubai or Mauritius. OV says that applications for similar visas in Kenya take three months while in Nigeria it is two,” she said. 

Analysis by OV suggests that about 900 000 South Africans emigrated in 2020. Many of those were skilled, which means that freeing up the ability to attract foreign skills is important to support the economy.  

“The backlog represents applications made through an arduous process that includes police clearance certificates from every country that applicants have previously worked in. About half of the applications that Home Affairs does process are rejected. Countless more are never made in the first place because potential applicants are discouraged by the bureaucracy,” Mavuso said.  

She added that, unsurprisingly, given the delays and difficulty in making an application, the numbers have been declining, with about 3 000 scarce skills applications in 2021 compared to 7 000 in 2017.  

“The policy overhaul proposed by OV urgently needs to be delivered. The visas chaos is a clear example of good policy thinking failing to be implemented. Business is willing to work with government to get to the outcomes that would leave everyone better off,” Mavuso said. 


To subscribe email or click here
To advertise email or click here

Comment Guidelines

About is a product of Creamer Media.

Other Creamer Media Products include:
Engineering News
Mining Weekly
Research Channel Africa

Read more


We offer a variety of subscriptions to our Magazine, Website, PDF Reports and our photo library.

Subscriptions are available via the Creamer Media Store.

View store


Advertising on is an effective way to build and consolidate a company's profile among clients and prospective clients. Email

View options
Free daily email newsletter Register Now