South Africa – Covid-19 – Immigration update

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Update July 31st 2020

Permits and visas extended until end of October

What is the change?

Visas and permits in South Africa will be extended because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The South African government cited the unavailability of most services at visa centers when announcing the extension.

Key Points:

  • Visas and permits that were set to expire 31 July will be extended until 31 October. Final regulations to be published.
  • Other temporary measures put in place during the initial extension continue to apply through 31 October.
  • Visa exemptions that have been withdrawn will remain withdrawn.

Immigration services in South Africa have been minimal since the start of the pandemic and ensuing lockdown. The government has announced several temporary measures for foreign nationals who were legally present in South Africa during the start of the pandemic.

Department of Home Affairs Visa Application Centers are operating for collections only and by appointment only. Visa Application Centers remain closed for other activities. The government is weighing the possible opening of the visa centers for online applications in limited categories and following possible online submissions, there will be in-person appointments for actual application submission.

Employers should continue to monitor how the visa extensions affect individual employees.

Update July 10th 2020

Travel restrictions updated

What is the change?

The Department of Home Affairs has updated travel restrictions for citizens, permanent residents and foreign nationals in certain situations.

Key Points:

  • Foreign nationals who have traveled via or are from high-risk countries continue to be restricted from entry. According to a notice published by the Minister of Home Affairs on July 3, foreign nationals who are barred from entry may apply for an exemption in writing to the Minister demonstrating exceptional circumstances. The request must include a copy of their passport and of their temporary residence visa (unless they are visa exempt or their visa was withdrawn under the COVID-19 directive). Those allowed entry will be subject to appropriate screening and quarantine.
  • International travel is now allowed for South African citizens or permanent residents whose place of work, residence or study is outside the country.
  • South African citizens planning to leave the country must provide the following documents to the Department of Home Affairs at least five working days in advance of the intended date of travel:
    • A copy of their valid South African passport.
    • A letter of confirmation of admissibility or the validity of the visa or permit, issued by the relevant diplomatic or consular mission or authority of the receiving country.
    • If transiting through another country, proof of permission to transit.
    • Proof of the means of travel and the intended date of departure.
  • South African citizens and permanent residents who are out of the country and wish to return will be subject to screening and examination.

South Africa began relaxing lockdown restrictions last month in a phased approach.

Update June 1st 2020

COVID-19: Lockdown further relaxed as country moves to Level 3

What is the change?

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced plans to lower the nationwide alert to Level 3 starting June 1 and to allow additional activities to resume in phases.

Key points:

  • Starting June 1, businesses in manufacturing, mining, construction, financial services, professional and business services, IT and communications, government and media services will resume. However, they must develop workplace plans before reopening, including social distancing measures, screening of employees upon arrival at work, quarantine protocols and testing for symptomatic employees and contact tracing in case an employee tests positive. Employees who are able to work from home should be allowed to, and employees over age 60 or those with underlying medical conditions should stay at home.
  • Permitted business activities and some domestic travel for business will be phased in according to a schedule to be announced.
  • People who do not need to go to work or school should continue to stay home, but people will be able to leave their homes to buy goods, obtain medical care or exercise, and the curfew on movement will be lifted. Gatherings remain prohibited, except for funerals of fewer than 50 people.
  • Certain high-risk activities remain prohibited, including conferences. Restaurants, pubs, lodges and hotels will remain closed.
  • South Africans citizens may return to their residence abroad only for work, study, family reunion, medical reasons, or to take up permanent residency. They must seek permission from the Department of Home Affairs via email by providing a copy of their valid South African passport, a letter confirming admissibility from the relevant embassy or consulate of the host country and any transiting countries, and proof of tickets and intended travel date.
  • Hotspots within South Africa may return to Level 4 or 5. A hotspot is defined as an area with more than five infected people per 100,000 or where new infections are rapidly increasing. The list of hotspots will be reviewed every two weeks.

The additional easing of the nationwide lockdown will allow more business activities to resume, but employers will need to have workplace plans and protocols in place before reopening. Ramaphosa emphasized that the number of infections continues to increase and the alert level may return to Level 4 or 5 in any part of the country if COVID-19 spreads or overwhelms the health care system.

Update April 17th 2020

COVID-19: Lockdown extended for 2 weeks, additional temporary visa measures announced

What is the change?

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that he is extending the nationwide lockdown on activities until the end of April to prevent further spread of COVID-19. The lockdown was scheduled to end April 16.

The stay-at-home order will apply until April 30. All individuals, except enumerated critical workers, must remain at home except for essentials, such as to buy food, medicine or supplies, to seek medical care or to collect a social grant. Inbound foreign nationals from high-risk countries remain barred from entry. High risk countries include China, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the U.K., and the U.S.

Additionally, the government has announced several temporary measures for foreign nationals who have already legally entered South Africa. These measures apply to foreign nationals whose visas expired Feb. 15, 2020 onward except for visa extensions filed before that date that remain pending. The following visa measures will remain in place until at least July 31.

Visa measures:

  • Expiring visas. Foreign nationals with temporary residence visas that expire Feb-15 or later who did not renew their visas before the lockdown will not be declared undocumented or put on the prohibited persons list. Anyone whose visas expired before or during the lockdown will not be detained for holding an expired visa. Those who return to their home country after the lockdown instead of renewing their visa will not be deemed undesirable upon departure.
  • Visa applications. The Department of Home Affairs is not accepting or processing visa or permanent residence applications during the lockdown. Those with visas expiring after Feb. 15 may re-apply after the lockdown and will not need to obtain a good cause authorization to stay in the country. Those with visas expiring after Feb. 15 who had scheduled appointments during the lockdown should reschedule to a date after the lockdown has been lifted.
  • Work, study and business. People whose visas expire during the lockdown and those who have made applications for renewals or re-applied for their respective visas before the lockdown but remain pending, will be allowed to work, study or conduct business after the lockdown while waiting decisions on their applications.
  • Nationals of high-risk countries. Visas issued for nationals of high-risk countries who were outside South Africa on March 15 remain revoked.
  • Departure ban. During the lockdown, foreign nationals currently in South Africa are barred from departing, unless expatriation was initiated by another state.
  • Lesotho Exemption Permit. Lesotho Special Permits which expired on Dec. 31, 2019 remain valid until June 15, 2020. Holders of the Lesotho Special Permit have until June 15 to submit their applications for the Lesotho Exemption Permit, and no new applications will be accepted.
  • Asylum Seeker Permits. Asylum seekers whose visas expire March 16 to the end of the lockdown period will not be penalized or arrested as long as they legalize their visa within 30 calendar days after the date the lockdown is lifted.

South African businesses and their employees should identify employees affected by the temporary visa measures to plan next steps in the coming months.

Update March 25th 2020

Government orders country lock down for 21 days

What is the change?

President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered the country to lock down to help slow the spread of COVID-19, citing the increasing numbers of cases worldwide and a high risk of overwhelming the country’s health care system. The measures are detailed below.

All individuals are ordered to stay home during the lockdown from midnight Thursday, March 26 until midnight April 16. Critical workers, such as medical personnel, those involved in food production, and other essential services, are exempt.

Individuals will only be allowed to leave their homes under strictly controlled circumstances, such as to seek medical care, buy food, medicine and other supplies or collect a social grant.

All offices, shops and businesses will be closed, except for essential services. Companies that are able to operate remotely should do so.

South African citizens and residents arriving from high-risk countries will be automatically placed under quarantine for 14 days.

Non-citizens arriving on flights from the high-risk countries (currently China, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States) will be turned back.

International travelers who arrived in South Africa from high-risk countries after March 9, 2020 will be confined to their hotels until they complete a 14-day quarantine.

International flights to Lanseria Airport are temporarily suspended.

Companies and their employees should prepare for the national lockdown measures and consider implementing telecommuting policies for employees if possible.

Update: March 20, 2020

Guidance issued on COVID-19 travel, visa restrictions

What is the change?

The Department of Home Affairs has released temporary measures in furtherance of COVID-19 travel restrictions announced by the president Sunday.

Key measures:

  • Visa exemptions. Visa exemptions for nationals of the following high-risk countries are canceled with immediate effect: Germany, Iran, Italy, France, Switzerland, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Visa exemptions for the following medium-risk countries are canceled with immediate effect: Hong Kong, Portugal, Spain. Nationals of the medium-risk countries will be required to apply for a visa at a South African consulate and submit a medical report attesting that they have not tested positive for COVID-19. Visa waiver agreements with countries the Department of Health deems high or medium risk will be suspended through issuance of travel alerts.
  • Entry bans. In accordance with the International Relations and Cooperation Ministry as per the World Health Organization, foreign nationals, regardless of whether they hold a visa, who are traveling from or transiting through the following countries are barred from entering: China, France Germany, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the U.K., the U.S. will be denied entry, with immediate effect.
  • Visas. Visas issued to nationals of China or Iran on or before March 15, 2020 are revoked and are now null and void. Foreign nationals whose passport indicates they have visited high-risk countries will be denied port of entry visas or temporary residence visas. Visas will be denied to any foreign national who has traveled to a high-risk country in the previous 20 days. Visas already issued to travelers from high-risk countries are revoked for those who have not yet entered South Africa.
  • Visa renewals. Foreign nationals in South Africa whose temporary residence visa is soon to expire or has already expired and who originates from or would need to transit through a country affected by COVID-19, may re-apply for a new visa with a validity date through July 31, 2020. They must meet all visa criteria and requests for changes of status or conditions will not be allowed. Those whose temporary residence visa expires between Dec. 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020 may re-apply for a visa without needing to obtain a Form 20 authorization.
  • Arrival procedures. All international travelers, including South African citizens, will be required to fill out a Health Form upon arrival and undergo a medical screening for COVID-19. If required, travelers will be isolated or quarantined for at least 14 days. Travelers from medium-risk countries must undergo high-intensity screening. South African citizens returning from high-risk countries will be subject to testing, self-isolation or quarantine upon return.
  • Screening in-country. Travelers from high-risk countries who entered South Africa since Feb. 15 are required to present themselves for testing.

Employers should continue to identify affected employees and reschedule or cancel travel if necessary. We are closely monitoring developments, including any changes to the list of countries deemed high- and medium risk and potential cancelation of visa exemptions for additional visa waivered nationals.

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