The global trend of skills migration has resulted in many jobs being left vacant in South Africa. This means that foreigners with the desired skills are next in line to move up the ladder of the company, making residing in South Africa much more attractive. The Department of Home Affairs (“DHA”) has also announced that it will open its doors to applications for permanent residence permits (“PRP”) from January 2022. If you are a qualified alien assigned to South Africa, there has never been a best time to request your PRP.
Applying for permanent residence is an incredible undertaking. Because it affects not just the applicant but their entire family, it could be the most important decision of their life. It is important to understand the finer points before applying for permanent residence.
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The advantages of becoming a permanent resident
As a PRP holder, you will be able to live and work permanently in South Africa without having to renew your visa each time it reaches its expiration date. You will have the right to do business, own property, study, travel in and out of South Africa and do all the activities that a citizen can do. In addition, you will be able to apply for a South African national identity card, which is useful when you need to rent property, buy a car, or open a bank account. While a PRP does not have an expiration date, you must be a resident or physically present in South Africa at least once every three years. A permanent residence permit will not jeopardize your citizenship in another country.
Unfortunately, being a permanent resident of South Africa does not entitle you to South African citizenship, which means that you will not be able to vote in local elections. Citizenship is a completely different application process with different requirements. You will also not be able to apply for a South African passport.
Types of permanent residence
There are numerous categories under which to apply for a PRP. As with any other permit, the applicant is subject to the conditions of the chosen category under which the permit was issued. For example, if you obtain permanent residence through retirement, you must show that you do not intend to work in South Africa. You would also have to show that you have the financial capacity to retire.
When do you qualify for permanent residence?
You must have lived in South Africa as a worker with five years of continuous work permits before applying for a PRP. It is important to note that never automatically qualify for permanent residence after living in South Africa for five years.
Foreigners may qualify for direct residence in special circumstances where:
- Have critical skills or qualifications that are in short supply in South Africa.
- You want to open your own business or invest in an existing business in the country.
- You want to retire and you can show that you are capable of supporting yourself.
- You got a permanent job offer in South Africa
- You are financially independent and do not need to work for a living.
Holders of a critical skills visa or a skill / qualification listed in the critical skills list, who also have a permanent job offer, have the advantage of being the first to seek the appropriate immigration advice. This will ensure that all necessary steps are taken to submit your PRP application before January 2022, thus avoiding long lines.
Spouses, dependents, or close relatives
A direct permanent residence permit can be obtained for the spouse or life partner of a South African citizen or permanent resident. However, they will be required to prove that they have been in a relationship for at least five years, either through cohabitation or a legal marriage certificate.
Legal dependents of a South African citizen or permanent resident, including children under the age of 18, as well as family members who meet the first level of kinship, can apply for a PRP.
Permanent residency can only be obtained through a formal, and sometimes cumbersome application process, which can take between 6 and 12 months before being approved. It should be noted that each application will be reviewed by DHA. Applicants are impartially screened and processed to determine whether they will contribute to the South African economy.
Approval is subject to the applicant meeting the criteria prescribed in the Immigration Law. If you are classified as a prohibited person or declared undesirable, you must provide a detailed reason why you should not be denied approval. In the event of missing or incomplete documents, the process can be further delayed.
There are many finer points to consider when applying for a residence permit. For example, it is advisable to be present in South Africa when applying for a PRP. You should never apply for permanent residence when you are in South Africa on a temporary tourist visa.
South African tax: a warning
South Africa’s tax system is a residence-based system, which means that your tax obligations will be determined by your state of residence. If you are considered a tax resident, you must pay taxes on your worldwide income, while non-residents are only subject to South African origin income tax.
You are considered a tax resident when you are a “regular resident” or have sufficient physical presence to activate residence. In terms of the former, you will be considered a resident if you objectively consider that you treat South Africa as your real and permanent home. The physical presence test is measured over a six-year period and applies if you are physically present in South Africa for more than 91 days total in the sixth fiscal year and the preceding five fiscal years and more than 915 days total during the five fiscal years. previous fiscal years. .
Crucially, if you apply for a PRP, you are effectively declaring that you intend to reside in South Africa permanently, which will trigger residency based on the “usual resident” test. Therefore, while permanent residence may seem like a good idea from an entry point of view, it may be considered a less favorable option from a comprehensive planning point of view. An immigration specialist with in-depth knowledge of South African tax matters should be able to advise on tax planning as part of their service.
To avoid potential hurdles when applying for a permanent residence permit, it is important to seek advice or assistance from an immigration specialist who is well versed in the South African visa or permit application processes, as well as the South African tax system.
Moeketsi Seboko – immigration manager at Xpatweb, Jean Du Toit, head of Tax Technician at Tax Consulting South Africa.