Getting down to the ‘nitty-gritty’ of applying for a business visa

A business visa is the ideal solution for an entrepreneur who wishes to expand or create business opportunity within South Africa. Although obtaining a business visa for South Africa is more difficult than it used to be, it is not impossible if you are armed with the knowledge of what needs to be done leading up to your application at the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) or at a South African embassy abroad.

Statistics: In 2016, no new applications for start-ups were approved for South Africa (48 total applications were submitted) and only 125 of 148 applications for business visa renewals were approved.

Why the small numbers? The financial requirement to invest in a business in South Africa changed from R2.5 million prior to May 2014 to R5 million post May 2014. Additionally, a business must now be within the ‘national interest’ per the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) requirements. This means that businesses which were started prior to 2014 which do not fall into a defined category with a very large sum of money are shunted.

What exactly is the process for applying for a business visa? Whether you are hoping to start a new business or renewing your current business visa, the process is much the same.

First, you must submit various documents (such as a detailed business plan, business registration documents and if renewing – financial statements from previous year) to the Department of Trade and Industry. A full list of the requirements can be found here. Although this seems relatively straight forward, it is important to give clear proof of the R5 million to be invested or already invested in the business. This must be done with the assistance of a registered chartered accountant.

Additionally the business must fall within the national interest. The list that appears to be used for this is in fact the list for businesses which qualify for a waiver of the R5 million amount, which is elaborated on below. It is essential that in the documentation submitted to the DTI it is made clear under which national interest category a business is under.

Although there is no way around having a business which falls within the national interest, there is a way around the R5 million initial investment. If the business does fall within the national interest, an applicant can apply for a reduction of the R5 million amount through the DHA and after the DTI has given their recommendation on whether or not DHA should approve a business visa.

Only once the DTI has given a recommendation to the Department of Home Affairs and you are notified of such, are you entitled to apply for your business visa renewal or initial application. If the Department of Trade and Industry has not approved your application for a business visa, because they believe that the business is not viable or for other reasons (such as fraudulent financial documents), DHA will reject your application as par for the course. Thus, it is extremely important that the documentation provided to the DTI is correct and as comprehensive as possible.

Final Thoughts: Before submitting and documents to the Department of Home Affairs or the Department of Trade and Industry, make sure that your business falls within the national interest category. If you do not have or have not invested R5 million, it is essential to apply for a reduction of this amount through DHA.

Given the fact that an applicant must work with two government departments, it is advisable to give yourself six months to process the paperwork BEFORE you aim to submit.