Important Considerations as South Africa Moves to Lockdown Level 1
| Caroline Kanzara

Important Considerations as South Africa Moves to Lockdown Level 1

Read our blog to learn more about the implications for travellers and employers 

South Africa has among the highest number of COVID-19 infections and deaths on the African continent. The high infection rate resulted in the government adopting many of the strictest lockdown measures in the world. This had a major impact on immigration, as people could not travel. The announcement by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on 21 September 2020 to move to “Coronavirus COVID-19 Alert Level 1” was a welcome development. This signalled the opening of international airspace as of 1 October 2020, as well the opening up of most economic sectors.

What does Alert Level 1 mean in terms of remobilising foreign nationals into South Africa?

As announced by the president, international travel is now allowed, subject to various containment and mitigation measures. The president earlier announced that restrictions would be placed on countries with high infection rates, although exceptions would be made for individuals travelling for business and investment purposes, as approved by the Minister of Home Affairs (DHA). The DHA has now announced the list of countries deemed high-risk, and has provided guidelines on what needs to be done before individuals from these countries can travel to South Africa for business purposes only.

Individuals travelling from high-risk countries must apply in writing to the DHA and provide their reasons for travelling to South Africa. The DHA has also published the list of documents required in order to make this application. It must be noted that all business travellers from high-risk countries, must seek this pre-approval before travelling to South Africa. At this point it is not clear how long this application will take to process. We encourage all potential travellers to seek advice to ensure that compliance with the regulations before travelling to South Africa.

Once the above-mentioned application is approved and a negative COVID-19 test certificate is secured within 72 hours of the intended entry date into South Africa, visitors can proceed to travel to South Africa. On arrival, travellers will be subjected to further COVID-19 screening. Failure to produce this test result will result in quarantine at the traveller’s expense. It is therefore important for travellers to consider the practical aspects of this requirement in view of connecting flights that might increase travel time and render the negative result invalid by the time they arrive in South Africa. The turnaround time for COVID-19 results in the country of origin should also be considered before booking flights, as this may result in delays. On arrival in South Africa a free COVID-19 alert app must also be downloaded before leaving the airport.

Expired visas

The Minister of Home Affairs, as anticipated, further extended the validity of visas from 31 October 2020, to 31 January 2021, for foreign nationals in South Africa whose visas expired during lockdown. This means all foreign nationals with legal and valid visas can either remain in the country until the extended date or depart without being declared undesirable. Please note that this provision does not apply to visas that expired before the lockdown period, which commenced on 26 March 2020.

In a very welcome move and in line with the opening of the international airspace, the DHA extended the list of services to be rendered under lockdown level 1 to include the lodgement of various immigration applications as listed in the in the government gazette published on 30 September 2020. This move will allow foreign nationals to apply for various categories of work permits, relatives permits, visitors visas, appeals and waivers both in South Africa and at the South African missions abroad. This is a relief for many foreign nationals, since these services had been suspended since March. It must be noted that some application categories, Permanent Residence, for example, are still suspended. Companies should consult with their immigration professionals for clarity regarding the categories that are available under lockdown level 1.

The president also announced that all long-term visas will be reinstated. At the start of the lockdown in March, the president had revoked visas from high-risk countries. His announcement is a relief for foreign nationals who have valid work permits, as it means they do not have to go through the full application process, which is both time-consuming and expensive. The DHA has reinstated the visa free status of travellers from some high-risk countries like South Korea, Spain, Italy, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, USA, UK, France, Portugal and Iran. It must be noted that the visa exemptions do not alter the Covid-19 regulations as announced by the DHA. Continuous engagement and consultation with the DHA will be required to ensure clarity on the provisions as published. The minister also indicated that the provisions are subject to continuous review. Hence it is important to ensure that individuals consult with their immigration professionals to remain abreast of the latest changes or trends. 

What to do next

We appreciate that all these details may be confusing, as many directives and regulations have only just been produced. We believe that it is critical for companies to seek professional immigration and mobility advice when mobilising employees into South Africa. This is to ensure that you remain in full compliance with the law. It is also advisable to audit your foreign national population to ensure clarity and planning for the next steps. This is more necessary in view of the restrictions imposed on certain nationalities.

For further information and advice on navigating the South Africa immigration landscape and impacts of COVID-19, please contact Caroline Kanzara or your Fragomen immigration professional.

We have also published a remobilisation guide for employers to assist with planning travel in and out of Sub-Saharan Africa. It gives insight into the processes, health screening requirements and immigration regulations of countries in the region. To obtain a free copy of this guide, please click here.

This blog was published on 7 October 2020, and due to the circumstances, there are frequent changes. To keep current with all the latest updates on global immigration, please visit our COVID-19 microsite, subscribe to our alerts and follow us on LinkedIn.