South African Government

Let's grow South Africa together

Civic services

Mandate of the DHA
National Population Register
Information Communication Technology Modernisation Programme
Control of travellers
Control of sojourn
Permanent residence
Temporary residence
Role players





The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is the custodian of the identity of all South African citizens, critical to which is the issuance of birth, marriage and death certificates; identity documents (IDs) and passports; as well as citizenship; naturalisation and permanent residency certificates.

This goes beyond merely issuing documents. It encompasses the safe maintenance and archiving of biometric and demographic records of citizens and residents of the country.

The department is also responsible for the effective, secure and humane management of immigration.

Statutory bodies falling under the department include the following, among others:

  • Immigration Advisory Board
  • Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs
  • Refugee Appeal Board.

A major focus for the DHA is the transformation of the department, so that it can deliver a service that is efficient, accessible and corruption-free. Several closely related strategic drivers are used in this regard

Mandate of the DHA

The core mandate of the DHA is to be the custodian of citizenship, status and identity; and to manage immigration securely and efficiently in the interest of economic development and national security. The provision of protection to asylum seekers and refugees is a separate mandate because it is an area of international migration that has its own Act and is grounded in international laws that have been ratified by the South African parliament.

It aims to be an enabler of some of the most critical conditions for economic growth and social justice identified in the NDP, including facilitating economic development, facilitating national security, ensuring good governance and administration and providing excellent service delivery to clients.

The Civic Services branch is the custodian of the National Population Register (NPR), which contains the records of all citizens and permanent residents, including changes in civic status, such as marriage and death. Services to citizens include issuing enabling documents after these citizens’ status have 
been confirmed, such as birth, marriage and death certificates and travel documents. Verification of identity is a service that is rendered to all government institutions, banks and other private sector institutions.

The Immigration Affairs branch determines the status and identity of foreigners; facilitates the movement of people through ports of entry; regulates immigration through permitting and movement control systems; and provides consular services abroad. Immigration officers are present at ports of entry and at offices in provinces. The branch has an inspectorate function that is responsible for enforcing the Immigration Act, 2002 (Act 13 of 2002) and Regulations. Immigration Affairs is also responsible for processing and determining the status of asylum seekers and refugees, and operates refugee reception centres nationally. Furthermore, the branch is responsible for managing a holding facility (Lindela) for illegal immigrants awaiting deportation after due processes have been followed.

With regard to services rendered abroad, the DHA is represented in 32 missions and is assisted by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation where it is not represented. For the collection of visa and permit applications, the DHA sourced the services of Visa Facilitation Services (VFS) Global in some countries abroad, as well as at centres within South Africa.

The Minister of Home Affairs has oversight over three statutory bodies: the Immigration Advisory Board, the Refugee Appeal Board and the Standing Committee on Refugee Affairs. The main responsibility of these bodies is to assist the department in discharging its mandate with regard to the Immigration Act of 2002 and the Refugees Act, 1998 (Act 130 of 1998).

The DHA also receives funds on behalf of the Electoral Commission and for the Represented Political Parties Fund. There are two entities that report to the Ministry, namely: the Electoral Commission and Government Printing Works (GPW). 


During 2018/19, the department received an initial budget allocation of R7.915 billion as voted funds. However, during the adjustment estimates of national expenditure, an additional funding of R1.132 billion was allocated to the department for self-financing. The self-financing mechanism was created by the National Treasury whereby the department is allocated part of the revenue it collects during the financial year to pay for certain items of expenditure such as smart identity cards for first-time applicants and citizens older than 60 years, infrastructure to implement the Who am I online project, fees for cash in transit and printing costs for enabling documents. The final appropriation was R9.047 billion. 

Applicable Legislation

Births, Marriages and Deaths:

Identity documents and identification:



Civic Services

It provides secure, efficient and accessible services and documents for citizens and lawful residents. The functions include:

  • registrations of births,
  • registrations of deaths,
  • issuing of identity documents,
  • identification of persons using biometrics ,
  • amending/ rectification of personal particulars,
  • handling/ solving duplicate cases, and
  • keeping records of births, amendments, marriage and deaths. 


South African citizenship may be granted by way of:

  • birth or descent
  • an application for naturalisation as a South African citizen
  • an application for resumption of South African citizenship
  • registration of the birth of children born outside South Africa to South African fathers or mothers
  • an application for exemption, in terms of Section 26(4) of the Act.

The South African Citizenship Amendment Act of 2010, among others, ensures that a child:

  • born to a South African parent inside or outside the country is a South African by birth, as long as the child is registered according to South African law
  • born of non-South African parents, but adopted by South African parents is a citizen by descent
  • born of non-South African parents in South Africa, may, at the age of 18 years, apply for naturalisation; while they are minors, such children will retain the citizenship of their parents
  • with no claim to any citizenship will be given South African citizenship, in accordance with international law and practice.

Dual citizenship

South Africa allows dual citizenship. It occurs when a person is a citizen of more than one country.

A South African who wishes to obtain the citizenship of another country must first apply to retain his/her South African citizenship and obtain the exemption before acquiring the foreign citizenship. This will allow him/her to hold dual citizenship.

All South African dual citizens must enter and leave South Africa on their South African passports. Their foreign passports must only be used outside South Africa. There is a penalty of a fine or imprisonment for failure to enter or leave the country using the SA passports.

National Population Register

Early registration of birth is essential to ensure the integrity and credibility of the NPR, which is used to affirm the identity, status and rights of citizens. Furthermore, the optimisation of early birth registration is aligned to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 16, which is aimed at providing access to justice, ending the scandal of invisibility, trafficking of children and providing legal identity for all, including birth registration by 2030.

Various public service institutions depend on the availability of the official birth registration figures for planning purposes. Currently the DHA is registering around 70% of births within 30 calendar days. 

Information Communiation Technology (ICT) Modernisation Programme

The ICT Modernisation Programme is the foundation of the digital roadmap that DHA has planned to embark on. The digital transformation will be enabled by robust integrated back-end systems and modern network infrastructure, which in turn enable all DHA front-end processes and alignment with all related government systems.

Key elements of the new model will be phased in over a 10-year period leading up to 2028/29. These include digital processes for issuing birth, marriage and death certificates; the use of modified screening procedures at e-gates at high-volume land ports of entry for pre-approved frequent travellers; and a single hub for the adjudication of permits and visas. All of these services will be accessed through a number of channels, often involving partners, such as public and private health systems for birth and death registration. The implementation of the new model will eliminate historical issues in the department such as long queues and fraud.

Digital transformation and continuous innovation will enable DHA to become a provider of “people centric” services and identity data verification for both government and private institutions. 

The National Identity System (NIS) – which will replace the NPR – will become the backbone of all DHA functions. It is expected to be operational by March 2024. The system will enable the security and reliability of civic and immigration status linked to identity and biometric data. This in turn will enable economic transformation; efficient service delivery and security of citizens and all known foreign nationals in South Africa.

The DHA is in the process of implementing this single integrated source of biographic and biometric information in order to make digital service delivery a seamless reality. The current disparate civic and immigration systems will produce secure data that will feed into the NIS according to an identity management policy and an updated Identification Act. All processes such as the registration of births, marriages and deaths will be digitised and secured.

The successful implementation of the NIS will lead to a substantial reduction in fraudulent transactions; and enable efficient e-Government and e-Commerce services.

An estimated R1.8 billion is allocated in the Administration programme over the medium term for the department’s modernisation programme.

Improved and expanding client interfaces

The rollout of smart identity cards began in 2013 to replace an estimated 38 million green barcoded identity books.

To increase the rollout of smart identity cards and passports over the medium term, the department will aim to expand its public-private partnership with the banking sector to provide services at more branches and other service providers such as the South African Post Office.

The department will also aim to extend its reach by procuring new mobile units and refurbishing its existing fleet, leading to a projected increase in the number of units from 70 in 2018/19 to 78 in 2019/20 at an estimated cost of R90 million over the medium term in the Administration programme 


The DHA’s National Immigration Branch is responsible for control over the admission of foreigners for residence and departure from South Africa. The immigration policy aims to:

  • discourage illegal migration into South Africa by encouraging foreign nationals to apply for relevant permits to legalise their stay in the country,
  • create an enabling environment for foreign direct investment in South Africa,
  • attract scarce skills required by the economy, in accordance with the 2014 vision of eradicating poverty and underdevelopment,
  • temporary and permanent residence permits issue as expeditiously as possible and according to simplified procedures,
  • ensure that security considerations are fully satisfied and the State regains control over the immigration of foreigners to South Africa,
  • ensure that economic growth is promoted through the employment of needed foreign labour; foreign investment is facilitated; the entry of exceptionally skilled or qualified people is enablednd and academic exchange programmes in the SADC are facilitated,
  • ensure that tourism is promoted,
  • ensure that the contribution of foreigners to the South African labour market does not adversely affect existing labour standards and the rights and expectations of South African workers,
  • ensure that a policy connection is maintained between foreigners working in South Africa and the training of South African citizens, a
  • ensure that a human-rights-based culture of enforcement is promoted.

The department prioritised the issuance of quota work permits to foreigners who fall within specific occupational classes or specific professional categories. In this context, details of specific occupational classes and specific professional categories and the applicable quotas are published annually in the government Gazette, after consultation with other stakeholder departments.

The Immigration Amendment Act of 2011 provides for, among other things:

  • revising provisions relating to the Immigrating Advisory Board,
  • revising provisions relating to the making of regulations,
  • the designation of ports of entry,
  • revising provisions relating to visas for temporary sojourn in South Africa,
  • the mandatory transmission and use of information on advance passenger processing,
  • the transmission of passenger name record information,
  • revising provisions relating to permanent residence, and
  • revising penal provisions. 


Foreigners who wish to enter South Africa must be in possession of valid and acceptable travel documents. They must have valid visas, except in the case of certain countries whose citizens are exempt from visa control. Such exemptions are normally limited to permits, which are issued for 90 days or less at the ports of entry.

The visa system is aimed at facilitating the admission of acceptable foreigners at ports of entry. The visa becomes a permit upon entry; therefore, no additional permit will be issued.

In November 2019, requirements for children travelling to  or from South Africa were revised to give effect to the Children’s Act, 2005 (Act 38 of 2005). Under the regulations, children from visa exempt countries only need a passport if they are accompanied by an adult. If unaccompanied, a child should carry the following documents:

  • Copy of his /her birth certificate.
  • Parental consent letters.
  • Copy of the passport(s)/identity document(s) of the parent(s)/ legal guardian(s).
  • Contact details of the parent(s)/ legal guardian(s)..
  • Letter from the person who is to receive the child in the Republic, containing his / her residential address and contact details in the Republic where the child will reside.
  • Copy of the identity document / valid passport and visa or permanent residence permit of the person who is to receive the child in the Republic.

Where applicable:

  • Copy of an adoption order.
  • Copy of a death certificate of the deceased parent/ parents or legal guardian.
  • Copy of a court order granting full parental responsibilities and rights or legal guardianship in respect of the child.

The requirements for parental consent and birth certificates remain unchanged in the case of South African children travelling – in view of the requirements of the Children’s Act of 2005. Where the department has issued a child passport containing the particulars of the parents, a birth certificate is not required.

In respect of inbound travellers (international visitors) where visas are required, provision of original birth certificates or certified copies of required documents would be continued during the visa application process, as this is in line with practice in many other countries.

The DHA outsourced the handling and processing of visa applications to VFS Global. VFS Global has opened 12 offices in nine provinces and 11 cities within South Africa.

Visa and permit applications will be accepted across these 12 centres and subsequently assessed by the DHA head offices in Pretoria. Non-South Africans with a legal residency permit in South Africa can apply for a visa or permit at these centres.

These could be found at:

  • Bloemfontein, Free State
  • Bruma (Bedfordview), Gauteng
  • Cape Town, Western Cape
  • Durban, KwaZulu-Natal
  • George, Eastern Cape
  • Johannesburg, Gauteng
  • Kimberley, Northern Cape
  • Nelspruit, Mpumalanga
  • Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape
  • Pretoria, Gauteng
  • Polokwane, Limpopo
  • Rustenburg, North West.

Zimbabwean nationals on the Special Dispensation for Zimbabweans Project, Asylum and Refugee cases will still be directly handled by the DHA. The VFS does not have the authority to grant or refuse visas as that decision still lies with the DHA.

New regulations state that one cannot change from a visitor’s visa to another type of visa; these applications for change of conditions must be made at a mission abroad, i.e. an embassy or consulate, where the applicant is an ordinary resident or holds citizenship. However, exceptional circumstances include if an applicant is in need of life-saving medical treatment or is an accompanying spouse or child of a business or work visa holder who wish to apply for a study or work visa.

Life partners looking to apply for temporary residency in South Africa based on a life partner visa will need to prove that they have been together for two years; those applying for permanent residency will need to prove that they have been together for five years. Spouses looking to apply for temporary residency in South Africa based on a spousal visa will not need to prove that they have been in a previous relationship for a certain number of years. If a partner or spouse was in a previous marriage, it is necessary to provide official documents that prove the dissolution of such marriage either by divorce or the death of the other spouse. Life partners will need to attend separate but simultaneous interviews to determine the authenticity of the existence of their relationship.

The DHA has officially eradicated the exceptional skills and quota permit categories. Current exceptional skills and quota permit holders will not be able to renew their permits going forward.

Those looking to renew their visa while in the country must do so 60 days before the current one expires.

Applications for a general work visa will have to include a certificate from the Department of Labour confirming the following:

  • despite a thorough search, the prospective employer could not find a South African employee with the skills and experience equivalent to those of the applicant
  • the applicant has proven skills and experience in line with the job offer
  • the salary and benefits of the applicant are not inferior to those of citizens or permanent residents
  • the contract signed by both the employer and applicant stipulates conditions that are in line the labour laws of South Africa.

The applicant will need a document to prove that their qualifications have been approved by the South African Qualifications Authority. This document must be translated  into one of the official languages of South Africa by a sworn translator. The work visa will be valid for a maximum of five years.

The critical skills work visa is based on a list of occupations that are considered critical (examples include agricultural engineers, land surveyor and forestry technicians) in South Africa. To apply for a visa in this category, the applicant does not need a job offer, but within one year of being granted a visa, will need to prove that he or she is gainfully employed within their field. This visa replaced the exceptional skills and quota visas.

Holders of visitor’s visas who wish to change the terms or status of their visa must submit an application no less than 60 days prior to the current visa’s date of expiration. It is no longer possible to change from a visitor’s visa to another visa category within South Africa.

It is a requirement for businesses to get a recommendation letter from the Department of Trade and Industry for a business visa. The Department of Trade and Industry will conduct a thorough forensic assessment of the feasibility of the business entity as well as the contribution to the national interest of South Africa.

A minimum of R5 million must be invested into South Africa. Any accountant registered with the South African Institute of Professional Accountants or the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants can verify the availability of funds for a business visa.

The business owner’s workforce must be 60% South Africans or must be permanent residents employed in various positions. Business visas will be granted for no longer than three years at a time. No business visa will be issued to a foreigner who intends to establish or invest in a business that is listed as an undesirable business undertaking.

To obtain an intra-company visa the employee in question must be employed with the foreign office/business for a minimum of six months before being eligible for transfer to South Africa. This visa will now be available for four years but is non-renewable.

Holders of a study visa may not conduct part-time work exceeding 20 hours of labour a week. Both study and exchange visas will only be issued for the duration of the study period or exchange programme, respectively.

An exchange visa (for people under 25 years) will not be granted to conduct work pertaining to what is considered an undesirable work as published by the Minister in the gazette, after consultation with the Minister of Trade and Industry.

An asylum transit visa issued at a port of entry will be valid for a period of five days to enable the holder to report at a nearest refugee reception office.

Fines will no longer be charged for overstaying. People who overstay for a prescribed number of times will be declared as undesirable.

The Chinese government consented to increasing the Visa Facilitation Centre footprint in China from four to nine, which is unprecedented given China’s strict regulations on foreign visa issuance.

The DHA is committed to contributing to regional integration in Africa and efforts to ease the movement of Africans on the continent.

The department also initiated the first ever community border crossing point between South Africa and Botswana at Tshidilamolomo in the North West, with the aim to roll these out to other border crossings with selected other neighbouring countries.

The DHA has implemented biometric capture at OR Tambo, King Shaka, Cape Town and Lanseria international airports, which has enabled it to abolish the transit visa and allow prospective travellers – mainly from China – to apply for visas through accredited tourism operators. 

Establishing a border management authority

In June 2013, Cabinet ruled that a border management authority should be established to provide an integrated approach to border management characterised by a single commandand-control structure. The authority will be aimed at improving security, integrity and efficiency at South Africa’s borders, and will incrementally assume responsibility for enforcing border law at ports of entry. The Border Management Authority Bill is set to be finalised by 2019/20.

Functions for the authority’s operations will be transferred from departments and entities such as the South African Police Service and the Department of Health over the medium term. 

Streamlining and securing international migration

The 2017 White Paper on International Migration contends that South Africa needs a progressive vision that inspires the country to maximise the benefits of international migration while minimising associated risks such as sovereignty, peace and security, and that the cost of a lack of investment in managing international migration is far higher than the cost of building the necessary capacity. Following Cabinet’s approval of the paper in March 2018, the department is in the process of drafting legislation, which is set to be promulgated in the next mediumterm strategic framework cycle (2019-2024). Elements of this policy, such as community border crossings, are being phased in.  

The advance passenger processing system enables passengers to be screened at the point of departure rather than at arrival. This streamlines arrivals, as passengers’ security and risk profiles are assessed before they reach ports of entry, and minimises security risks.

The department is also in the process of establishing publicprivate partnerships for the redevelopment and modernisation of six priority land ports of entry (Beitbridge, Maseru Bridge, Kopfontein, Lebombo, Oshoek and Ficksburg), as well as moving refugee reception centres closer to the country’s borders

Control of travellers

People arriving in South Africa by air, sea or land have to pass through customs control, where they may be questioned and their baggage scanned or searched for dutiable, restricted or prohibited goods. Visitors found with undeclared, restricted or prohibited goods could be fined or may face prosecution.

South Africa acceded to the Admission Temporaire/ Temporary Admission (ATA) convention in 1975, which means foreign visitors companies and individuals can approach their local chambers of commerce for advice regarding the issuing of an ATA Carnet for the temporary import of certain goods in a simplified method. An example would be broadcasters or 
sponsors of international sporting events taking place in South Africa. 

Control of sojourn

Foreigners who are in the country illegally and are, therefore, guilty of an offence may be classified into three categories, namely those who:

  • entered the country clandestinely
  • failed to renew the temporary residence permits issued to them at ports of entry
  • breached the conditions of their temporary residence permits without permission, such as holiday visitors who took up employment or started their own businesses.

Depending on the circumstances, people who are in South Africa illegally are prosecuted, removed or their sojourn is legalised. Officers at the various regional and district offices of the department are in charge of tracing, prosecuting and removing illegal foreigners from the country. Employers of illegal foreigners may also be prosecuted. 

Permanent residence

Government allows immigration on a selective basis. The DHA is responsible for:

  • processing applications for immigration permits for consideration
  • admitting people suitable for immigration, such as skilled workers in occupations in which there is a shortage in South Africa.

The department particularly encourages applications by industrialists and other entrepreneurs who wish to relocate their existing concerns, or to establish new concerns in South Africa.

The DHA is not directly involved in an active immigration drive. In categories where shortages exist, the normal procedure is for employers to recruit abroad independently and, in most cases, initially apply for temporary work permits.

The DHA considers the applications for immigration permits of prospective immigrants who wish to settle in the relevant provinces. In terms of new regulations, regions will be responsible for issuing permits previously issued by the regional committees, in respect of permanent residence. They will also do so in respect of temporary residence. Enquiries in this regard may be made to the nearest office of the DHA in South Africa, to missions abroad, or to the DG of the DHA for the attention of the Directorate: Permitting, in Pretoria.

The department has prioritised temporary residence permits, as this category of foreigners is at risk of being in the country illegally, if their applications are not finalised in time.

The DHA will prioritise applications for permanent residence permits from holders of quota work permits and exceptional skills work permits, in line with the country’s objective of attracting critical skills. 

Temporary residence

The Zimbabwean Special Dispensation Permit (ZSP) was announced in March 2014, replacing the Dispensation for Zimbabwe Project (DZP) which officially closed on 31 December 2014.

Under the DZP, Zimbabwean nationals, who were in the country illegally, were granted an opportunity to legalise their stay. The special dispensation was introduced in 2009 to regulate the stay of Zimbabweans working illegally in South Arica because of the political and socio-economic situation in their country.

Approximately 295 000 Zimbabweans applied for the permit. Just over 245 000 permits were issued, with the balance being denied due to lack of passports or non-fulfilment of other requirements.

The new ZSP was accepted by Cabinet in August 2014. Zimbabwean nationals who were in possession of the DZP permits were eligible to apply for the ZSP if they wished to extend their stay in South Africa. Certain conditions applied, which included a valid Zimbabwean passport; evidence of employment, business, or accredited study, and a clear criminal record.

The ZSP allowed permit-holders to live, work, conduct business and study in South Africa for the duration of the permit, which would be valid until 31 December 2017.

In August 2017, Cabinet approved the reopening of the application process for the current ZSP holders, under certain conditions. The ZSP allows applications from Zimbabweans with a valid Zimbabwean passport, evidence of employment, business or accredited study and a clear criminal record and if successful grants them a permit to stay and work, study or run a business in South Africa.

VFS Global managed applications for ZSP permits while the DHA adjudicated applications. VFS opened four new offices in provinces where it was anticipated that there would be large numbers of applicants. These were Gauteng, Western Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. The new offices were in addition to the 11 offices already opened, all of which dealt with ZSP applications.

ZSP permit-holders, who wished to stay in South Africa after the expiry of their ZSP, would need to return to Zimbabwe to apply for mainstream visas and permits under the Immigration Act of 2020.

In January 2016, the Lesotho Special Permit (LSP) was launched. The purpose of the programme is to to regularise the stay of Lesotho nationals currently residing in South Africa illegally.

It is meant to document Lesotho nationals who are working, studying or running businesses in South Africa, without appropriate documentation. A total of 90 314 permits were issued.

The special permits will be valid for four years, until 31 December 2019.

In November 2019, the department introduced the new Lesotho Exemption Permit which replaces the LSP. The new dispensation is only applicable to existing holders of the LSP and will be valid for four years. Online applications were opened on 18 November 2019 and will be closed on 31 March 2020. 

Role players

Government Printing Works

The GPW is a South African security printing specialist that deals with the printing of passports, visas, birth certificates, smart identity cards and examination materials, as well as government stationery and publications, such as tender bulletins and government gazettes.

It adheres to the overall goal of security printing, which is to prevent forgery, counterfeiting and tampering that could lead to fraud and identity theft.

It does this by continuously updating its security printing technology and today, boasts a new state-of-the-art facility that 
has been benchmarked internationally and is widely divergent from its humble beginnings. The GPW operates as a self-funded business within regulated parameters of the DHA

Source: South Africa Yearbook 2018/19