Can foreign national graduates of tertiary institutions in South Africa enter the South African job market?

On 21 April 2016, the Minister of Home Affairs (“Minister”) granted a waiver allowing foreign national graduates of tertiary institutions in South Africa who graduate with degrees in the area of critical skills an automatic right to apply for permanent residency (“PR”) pursuant to section 27(b) of the Immigration Act 13 of 2022.

In February of 2022, Home Affairs issued a Directive (Number 2 of 2022), withdrawing the blanket waiver dated 21 April 2016 (“2016 Waiver”).  Following the withdrawal of the 2016 Waiver, foreign graduates wanting to work in South Africa are required to apply for a work visa or a critical skills work visa, after securing a permanent offer of employment from a South African employer in good standing with the Department of Labour (“SA Employer”).

Prior to the new South African Critical Skills List being published in February 2022,  graduates could also apply for a critical skills visa that would give them a one-year grace period to find employment. Pursuant to Home Affairs Directive 1 of 2022, this is no longer the case.

While many would argue that South Africa has a high unemployment rate and a saturated labour market, making it nearly impossible for foreign national graduates to secure employment, there is another more positive entry point that is slowly emerging. According to an employment outlook survey conducted by ManpowerGroup (2022), South African employers are struggling to attract and retain skilled workers. In fact, many skilled workers have already left South Africa resulting in a growing skills gap.

Foreign graduates of tertiary institutions in South Africa who graduate with degrees in the area of critical skills therefore have a higher chance of motivating to employers that they possess the necessary skills to secure employment.

In order to apply for a critical skills work visa, foreign national graduates would in addition to securing an offer of employment from a South African company, need to meet the following criteria:

  • Their occupation must be on the 2022 critical skills list.
  • They must meet the NQF level required for their critical skill.
  • They must satisfy all other requirements associated with their occupation. The requirements applicable to each critical skills work visa application, vary as they are determined by the specific skill and the sector.

Certain professions contained in South Africa’s Critical Skills list have mandatory professional body membership requirements (e.g. Engineering professionals have to have membership through the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA)). In addition to membership with a professional body, critical skills visa applicants need confirmation of skills from their professional body or two years of post-qualification work experience.

The challenge for graduates is that most often they do not have work experience, therefore they are left with the option of obtaining professional body membership and skills confirmation. The requirements of certain professional bodies can be onerous and the process of obtaining skills confirmation, rigorous. Graduates that need to apply to these professional bodies (particularly Engineers and Auditors) will need to be patient and tenacious when it comes to complying with the requirements.

Following Home Affairs Directive 1 and 2 of 2022, it is certainly not easy for foreign graduates to enter the South African job market; however, it is possible. Having the right immigration partner to assist foreign graduates with navigating the maze of requirements is in our view essential!

To find out whether you qualify for a general work visa, critical skills work visa or any other visa, take our two minute Assessmentor book a Free consultation with one of our consultants HERE.

Author: Emily Nkomo