Civic services

Legislation and policies
National Population Register
Control of travellers
Control of sojourn
Permanent residence
Temporary residence
Digital records





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.

The department’s budget for the 2017/18 financial year R8.3 billion.

Legislation and policies

The mandate of the DHA is derived from the Constitution and various Acts of Parliament and policy documents. The department’s services are divided into two broad categories: civic services and immigration services. Both must ensure the efficient determination and safeguarding of the identity and status of citizens, and provide for the regulation of immigration to ensure security, promote development and fulfil South Africa’s international obligations.

The department oversees the implementation of, among others, the following legislation:


The South African Citizenship Amendment Act, 2010 (Act 17 of 2010) amends provisions of the South African Citizenship Act of 1995 that deal with citizenship by birth and naturalisation, and the loss of citizenship in terms of the mandate of the DHA.

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.

National Population Register

Government aims to ensure that registration at birth is the only entry point to the national population register. This will be achieved by increasing the number of births registered within 30 calendar days from 750 000 in 2016/17 to 950 000 in 2018/19.

The DHA commits to finalising the design of a National Identity System (NIS) that will replace the National Population Register, which dates back to the 1980s.

The NIS will be a secure integrated system recording identities and status of all people who visit or reside in South Africa.

All systems of the DHA will be automated and connected to the NIS. In this regard, one of the new targets for 2017/18 will be piloting of the full scope of biometrics at a port of entry. This entails improving the movement control system and digitising citizenship and amendment processes.

As part of this process, the DHA discontinued the manual processing of passports. Passports can only be acquired through the 179 live capture offices across the country.


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 enabled and academic exchange programmes in the Southern African Development Community (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
  • 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, 2011 (Act 13 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
  • 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 October 2015, new visa changes were introduced to address concerns raised by tourists, South African travellers and stakeholders in the tourism sector regarding revisions to regulations introduced in 2014.

The amended allowances now require South African children travelling through South African borders to have their parents’ identification and citizenship details printed in their passports, doing away with the requirement to carry unabridged birth certificates on entry or exit.

For school tours and other group tours including under-age children, entry and exit regulations now only require confirmation letters from the school principals or a similar authority, along with the amended passport requirements. This authority will also be extended to include registered sports bodies on tour.

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.

Travellers from visa-exempt countries travelling with children were strongly advised to bring with them proof of the relation and consent from the absent parents or guardians.

The DHA outsourced the handling and processing of visa applications to Visa Facilitation Services (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 inconsiderate 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.

South Africa’s new Passport and Travel Documents Act, 1994 (Act 4 of 1994) officially came into effect in June 2015. Under the new legislation, South Africans and foreign nationals travelling with children under the age of 18 are required to produce unabridged birth certificates.

It is part of Government’s commitment to safeguard the best interests of children and prevent child-trafficking.

Parents who needed to travel with their children and could not get unabridged birth certificates in time, would be able to leave the country if they had a letter indicating that they had applied for the documents.

The requirements were aimed at establishing the principle that all children must have the consent of their parents when travelling into or out of South Africa.

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 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.

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.

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.

The special permits will be valid for four years. They will expire on 31 December 2019. More than 400 000 Lesotho nationals stood to benefit from the LSP.

Digital records

The DHA aimed to digitise 286 million records at its disposal through the digitisation project launched in November 2016, in partnership with Statistics South Africa (Stats SA).

Birth certificates would be prioritised, followed by other documents.

The digitisation project, converting information into a digital format process, follows close collaboration between the DHA and Stats SA. It signifies a transition from the old systems of record-keeping to a modern, efficient and secure storage method.

Digitising records will make them more easily accessible.

Source: South Africa Yearbook 2017/18