The gridlock affecting work-permit applications in South Africa is limiting expansion by German companies in the country and threatening operations that support 100,000 jobs, an industry association said.
While South Africa is taking steps to improve an approval system and make it easier and quicker to get permits, the snarl-up that was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic has limited the entry of skilled workers into a country that has a dire shortage of them.
Between 2014 and 2021, only 25,298 skilled-worker permits were approved by the country, which has a population of 60 million.
“The visa matter spans the entire hierarchy of German business in South Africa”, ranging from chief executive officers to technicians, the Southern African-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry said on Thursday in a response to questions.
“This is, of course, not only a concern to German business but also to the country itself”, as German companies operating in South Africa provide jobs for 100,000 people along their supply chains, the chamber said.
Companies operating in South Africa struggle to find skilled workers, a result of a dysfunctional education system and exacerbated by emigration. Volkswagen and BMW operate factories in the country, and the chamber has over 600 member companies.
Andreas Peschke, Germany’s ambassador to South Africa, has previously estimated that German companies account for 10% of South Africa’s export income.
Germany is South Africa’s third-biggest single-country trade partner after China and the US, with two-way movement exceeding $20 billion last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Companies not being able to get permits for executives at local subsidiaries is endangering investment, and “the same goes for technicians not being able to enter the country, while at the same time, there are no skilled workers available in South Africa to service machinery,” the chamber said.
The group said that while there have been improvements this year, its members had more than 100 open work permit applications in the second half of last year.
In one case, it took about 18 months to get a permit for a managing director, and the owners of one company sold up after their visa was rejected despite 30 years of doing business in the nation.
The visa-approval process remains opaque, and offers from the chamber to help improve the process and digitize it have not been responded to, the German chamber said.
Siyabulela Qoza, a spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs, didn’t answer a call to his mobile phone or respond to a text message.