Immigrating to South Africa


Thinking of settling in South Africa? Here’s information on immigration categories, requirements and application procedures, and the answers to some frequently asked questions.

Immigrating to South Africa
Sunrise over the Johannesburg city skyline. South Africa is a land of opportunity for many, attracting immigrants from across Africa, and the world. (Image: Brand South Africa)

To immigrate and live in South Africa, you need a permanent residence permit. This permit grants the holder all the rights, privileges, duties and obligations of a citizen, except for those which are explicitly ascribed to citizenship.

Important note

This article is currently under review as the regulations covering immigration and visas have been changed. In the meantime, please visit the Department of Home Affairs at for more information.

This information is a guide only. Requirements for immigration to South Africa are subject to change, and each application is treated as an individual case. Always make enquiries before travelling to South Africa.

Where can I make enquiries about immigration?

South Africa’s immigration policy is embodied in the Immigration Act, which prescribes the requirements which are to be met by an applicant who wishes to immigrate to the country permanently.

Who can immigrate to South Africa?

South African immigration law aims to protect the health and security of South Africans, as well as their rights to employment opportunities in the country.

South Africa has a vast reserve of unskilled and semi-skilled workers. Generally, a prospective immigrant to South Africa should not follow an occupation for which there are already sufficient people available to meet the country’s needs. Unskilled and semi-skilled workers, in particular, will not usually be accepted as immigrant workers in South Africa.

Conversely, immigrants who are in a position to contribute to the broadening of South Africa’s economic base will be welcomed. Applications by skilled workers in occupations for which there is a shortage in the country are encouraged – particularly applications by industrialists and other entrepreneurs who wish to relocate their existing businesses or establish new concerns in South Africa.

What are the requirements for immigration?

Because of the need to create job opportunities for South African workers, prospective immigrants should be seriously committed to investing their assets, skills and experience for the benefit of themselves and the people of South Africa.

If you wish to immigrate permanently to South Africa, you should be of “good and sound character” and not follow an occupation in which there are already sufficient people available to meet the country’s needs.

In order to make an application for a permanent residency permit, applicants must first submit representation to the Minister of Home Affairs motivating why he or she should be declared not to be a prohibited person or an undesirable person.

All applications for permanent residence are considered individually on merit by an autonomous statutory body, the Immigrants Selection Board.

Immigration categories

Permanent residence permits are divided into two main categories:

Direct residence (Section 26): This is issued to foreigners who have been on a work permit for five years and who have received a permanent offer of employment. In general, if a foreigner meets all the requirements, their spouse and children under 21 will likewise qualify for permanent residence.

Residence on other grounds (Section 27): This includes foreigners who:

  • have been made a job offer within certain conditions
  • possess exceptional skills or qualifications
  • intend to set up a business in South Africa
  • those who intend to retire here
  • are financially independent
  • qualify as refugees
  • relatives of a South African citizen

All immigration applicants older than 21 must submit to a personal interview.

Where do I apply for immigration?

In general, you should apply for immigration to South Africa while in your country of residence, and await the outcome of your application before proceeding to South Africa. You should apply at your nearest South African office abroad.
However, you may apply for immigration while in South Africa – at your nearest Home Affairs provincial office – if:

  • You are in the country on a valid work permit; or
  • You are married to, or the child of, a South African citizen or permanent resident, and are in South Africa on a valid temporary residence permit; or
  • You are being sponsored for immigration purposes by a blood family member who is permanently and lawfully resident in South Africa and are in South Africa on a valid temporary residence permit; or
  • You have been exempted from the requirement to hold a temporary residence permit.

How long is my permit valid for?

Once you have been granted permanent residence, you need never to apply again. However, you must take up residence in South Africa within a year of being granted permanent residence.

Brand South Africa reporter, incorporating information from the Department of Home Affairs

Reviewed: 10 March 2014

Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See Using Brand South Africa material.