Virginia, US

Moving to South Africa after completing my tertiary education was a milestone in my adult life. As a result of migrating to South Africa, I have met many people and have gone through a series of experiences, which have expanded my world view. Some of my experiences have been sad, some hilarious, some life changing and some educational. I wanted to touch on some of the lessons I have learnt personally regarding immigration, as an immigrant in South Africa and through observing the people around me as they handled their immigration matters.

1. Do not take the easy way out: There are too many immigration alternatives available in South Africa. The big question to be asked is:  “Are those alternatives compliant?” A good number of individuals fall victim to paying an exorbitant amount of money to unskilled/semi-skilled visa agents. These so-called agents process the applications based on personal experiences rather than with a complete knowledge of the country’s immigration legislation. This route often leads to documents being obtained via incorrect channels leaving the applicant stranded with fraudulent documents. 

2. Seek advice from the right people: When I first arrived in South Africa, I found a large immigrant society. Amongst these people were a number of “experts” on various subjects ranging from work permits, bank accounts, taxis, where to get cheap clothes and so forth. Some of the advice offered turned out useful as it helped me to be street wise and to integrate into my new community. In hindsight, some of the advice needed to be taken with a pinch of salt, as none of these people were truly experts on any of the subjects. This was especially true regarding advice related to immigration. A lot of people are stuck with immigration problems because they took the wrong advice from the wrong people. It is better to obtain advice from the horse’s mouth than from other sources. Visit the website of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), read up on all the information available and visit the DHA offices or representative offices to get information and clarity. Above all, seek advice from a reputable immigration service provider. No price is too great to maintain a legal status in a country.​

3. Take the time to research the available options: Immigration is one of the most important aspects of a person’s move into a new country and should be the first consideration. Unfortunately, it often falls to the bottom of the list of considerations. A lot of people find themselves in a new country with absolutely no idea how they are going to legally migrate with their families. Sufficient time and research must be put into investigating all the available and applicable options and requirements that are in line with qualifications, experience and sometimes relationship status. ​

4. Always start working on your renewals in advance to avoid inconvenience: Many people only think of renewing their status when left with a couple of months to expiry. The guideline might be that you may submit your application 60 days before expiry but because there is a lot of paperwork that goes into your application, more time is often needed. Start gathering your documents within a reasonable timeframe, such that they will still be valid when you submit. Do not wait for the last minute, as there may be a lot of unforeseen circumstances including processing delays or rejections. ​

5. Keep track of your original documents and ensure all payments are receipted: This is important in ensuring that you do not lose critical documents that may not be replaceable or may be costly to replace. By ensuring that all payments are receipted and from reputable sources, you guard against making facilitation payments. Furthermore, be warned that if a friend of a friend has a contact, it's probably not legitimate.​

6. Know your work permit: It is important that you know and understand the type of work permit you were granted and what it allows you to do. Check what has been stamped on your passport when you go through immigration. This will help you to answer questions at the port of entry should a need arises.

Overall, being aware, prepared and properly informed are the keys to success when immigrating to a foreign country. These are just a few of the lessons I learned, which I hope provide insight to others planning to make a similar move.