Ramaphosa outlines plans to attract digital nomads to SA

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 12 Feb 2024
President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Despite efforts to narrow South Africa’s skills gap, president Cyril Ramaphosa contends it will “take some time” before the country can produce enough skilled people to succeed in an ever-changing global economy.

As a result, government is looking to reform the country’s visa system to attract remote workers, commonly referred to as digital nomads, reveals Ramaphosa. He states this makes it easier to attract the skills needed by the economy, and promote innovation and entrepreneurship.

Taking to his weekly newsletter this morning, the president references a review report published last year that found SA’s available labour supply “does not match demand from companies which are essentially looking to employ management-level personnel, professionals, engineers, technicians, science and maths educators, as well as IT experts”.

This, he notes, means that at least in the short-term, many of these high-level skills must be sourced internationally.

Ramaphosa further states the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) last week published for public comment draft amendments to existing immigration regulations that will significantly boost efforts to attract workers with critical skills to SA.

The draft amendments deal with two visa categories: a remote working visa and the critical skills visa, says the president.

“The introduction of a remote working visa responds to the rapidly-evolving world of work, where increasing numbers of skilled workers, notably in the tech industry, are attracted by the lifestyle benefits of working from a remote location.

“It also caters to so-called digital nomads, who are able to work virtually from any location in the world. A remote worker who wants to work in South Africa while being employed by a foreign company will be able to receive such a visa.

“The draft regulations propose the introduction of a points system for critical skills visas that will take into account factors such as age, qualifications, language skills, work experience and having an offer of employment.

“An efficient, agile, responsive visa regime is key to attracting business investment and boosting economic growth.

“International experience shows that employees with critical skills contribute to improved productivity, enhanced innovation and improving the competitiveness of the firms they work for.”

The president’s comments come as City of Cape Town alderman James Vos urged a modernised visa application process by the DHA, to make it easier to travel to SA for tourism, business and work.

Notably, Vos said CapeBPO – the city’s special purpose vehicle partner in the call centre industry – has noted the current visa system is hindering critical knowledge transfer for numerous local jobs.

According to Ramaphosa, last October, the DHA released guidelines for corporate employers under a “Trusted Employer Scheme”, which will make the visa process easier for large investors and streamline application requirements.

Under this scheme, a company looking to employ skilled foreign workers would be vetted and approved in advance to reduce the administrative burden for visa applications, he explains.

“With South Africa fast becoming an increasingly attractive destination for industries like business process outsourcing and customer experience, attracting more skilled workers will be important.

“Since 2016, government has invested more than R3 billion towards supporting the growth and expansion of business process outsourcing, and is targeting the creation of approximately 500 000 jobs in the sector by 2030.

“In line with our ongoing efforts to attract higher levels of investment and promote job creation, the new work visa regulations are a milestone. They are part of high-impact structural reforms we are undertaking to improve the business operating environment.

“They send a clear signal to business that we are committed to attracting skills that meet the demands of a modern, inclusive and growing economy.”