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Remobilisation of South Africa Post-COVID Lockdown
| Lunga Mani

Remobilisation of South Africa Post-COVID Lockdown

Read Lunga Mani's blog for the latest updates from South Africa 

President’s Speech

On 15 March 2020, the President of the Republic of South Africa made an announcement, restricting the travel of nationals from high-risk countries, or people who transited via high-risk countries, into South Africa. The high-risk countries at that time were those mentioned by the President in his speech.

The restriction of travel into South Africa meant that visas of those nationals from high-risk countries who were not in South Africa on 15 March 2020, were withdrawn. The status of these visas was confirmed in the directives issued by the Minister of Home Affairs on 26 March 2020.

The revocation or withdrawal of visas raised questions from immigration practitioners. It was felt that revocation carried with it a sense of closure, while the issue that the government wanted to address was of a temporary nature. An example of the question that many found themselves asking was:

“For the visas that have been revoked, where the assignee had not travelled to South Africa, does this mean  the assignee would need to apply for a new visa when the country opens its borders for international travel?”

On 16 September 2020, the President made an announcement stating that the lockdown alert level will be lowered from alert level 2 to level 1, taking effect from midnight on 20 September. International travel for work, business, leisure and tourism will be allowed from 1 October 2020, subject to various containment and mitigation measures. These include restricting travelling from certain countries that have high infection rates.

The proposed containment and mitigation measures will be in place to protect fellow South Africans. The measures include the requirement to present a negative COVID-19 test result on arrival. The negative test result should not be older than 72 hours from the time of departure to South Africa. In addition, the COVID-19 tracking app must be downloaded on arrival. Where a COVID-19 test was not taken or taken within 72 hours prior to departure, the traveller will be subjected to a mandatory quarantine at his or her own cost.

In addition, the President announced all long-term visas will be reinstated. This includes Critical Skills Visas and Intra-Company Transfer Visas issued.

General Fragomen Assessment

The requirement for a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of departure is in line with the regional standards we have seen implemented by other countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, including Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana.

In addition, Namibia and Nigeria also require travellers quarantine on arrival for 14 days, as well as take an additional COVID-19 test.

South Africa sought to strike a balance which allows for protection of lives, while focusing on the rapid economic recovery. 

As we await details on international travel, which will be set out in the regulations that will be announced by the various ministers, we are currently operating under the assumption that the government will still look at implementing specific travel and entry requirements to and from countries with high infection rates.

On 17 September 2020, the Business Insider[1] reported that Switzerland had just added South Africa to its green list. This means that travellers to Switzerland from South Africa will not be required to undergo quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in Switzerland. With this move from Switzerland, one cannot help but suspect that South Africa will apply the principle of reciprocity – something that has been introduced by a few countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, and example being The Gambia.

Visas

As the government will be looking at developing a list of countries with high infection rates (“high-risk countries”), implementation of travel restrictions to nationals of those countries or travellers from those countries, may make it difficult for them to enter South Africa in a speedy fashion.

Our view is that the government may be looking at considering applicants who seek to come to the country for long-term work purposes or tourism. This will be in line with the government move to find ways of speeding up economic recovery while remobilising travel into South Africa.

Accompanying spouse and section 11(2) visas applications might not be prioritised when being processed. However, this approach may impact maintenance of family unity, especially for long-term residents and even state-owned enterprises undertaking projects of national importance, such as Eskom.

Conclusion

As identified, from 01 October 2020, assignees or travellers whose visas were revoked in March, may now be allowed to travel into South Africa provided their visas have not expired.

A new list of high-risk countries may be published in the coming days depending on the matrix that will be developed by the government’s epidemiological experts. With this list, mitigating factors for people travelling from the high-risk countries may also be announced.

The last questions that we are asking are:

Should travellers from high-risk countries be barred from entering South Africa? Will a specific category of travellers from those high-risk countries be allowed to enter South Africa, based on a motivation similar to the one currently in place for separated families or resources critical to the business operations in South Africa?

We expect these questions to be answered by a directive or regulations in the coming days.

We have a remobilisation guide for employers to assist them 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.

Should you wish to discuss any mobility or immigration-related matters for Sub-Saharan Africa, please reach out to Lunga Mani by emailing [email protected], or contact your Fragomen immigration professional.

This blog was released on 18 September, 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 and subscribe to our alerts. You may also follow our LinkedIn account. 

[1] https://www.businessinsider.co.za/you-can-now-travel-to-and-from-switzerland-without-having-to-do-a-mandatory-quarantine-period-2020-9