It is now a matter of when and not if companies employing foreign nationals will be audited by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).

The arrest of at least 25 illegal foreign nationals at the beginning of May by the Cape Town Police, accompanied by officials from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), sparked a scramble among the local business community who are concerned that they may unknowingly be employing foreigners who are working in the country illegally.

Marisa Jacobs, immigration specialist at Xpatweb, says that considering recent arrests that have been made, HR professionals, managers, business owners and CEOs need to make sure that systems are in place to ensure that expatriates are legally employed within their business.

“The Department of Home Affairs has warned that they will be increasing the number of audits and investigations among South African companies that employ foreign nationals. This isn’t an empty threat and they are clamping down on foreign nationals who contravene the act as well as employers who are illegally employing foreigners. Anyone who is deemed responsible for the appointment of the person could face repercussions which means that everyone from HR managers to CEOs could face fines or imprisonment,” says Jacobs.

Pitfall no.1: Employees job titles don’t match work visa job titles

Making sure that an employee’s job title matches the title on their work visa is a vital step to ensuring that foreigners are complying with the Act. “It can happen that a company employs a foreign national and that the employee is promoted or moved within the business. When an employee changes jobs and their job title or position changes, their work visa may no longer comply with the conditions thereof.

The process to update the visa so that it is in line with the work contract is relatively simple and straightforward, but it’s a step that many employers overlook, and this can put them at risk to non-compliance,” says Jacobs.

Pitfall no.2: Information on permits don’t match DHA system information

If a company has employed a foreign national already in possession of a visa, the company may not know if the worker’s visa is legitimate, whether it was obtained in the correct manner or even if it was issued by the DHA.

“In this case, we recommend that employers contact the DHA to check what information is on the system. This additional check beyond looking at a work visa is needed to ensure compliance with the Act,” says Jacobs.

Pitfall no.3: No skills transfer plan

Another potential pitfall that companies should take note of is the condition relating to the transfer of skills. Certain categories of work visas for foreign nationals stipulate that the skill that is being imported needs to be transferred to local citizens. If a company is audited by the DHA, the company may be asked to present their skills transfer plans.

“One of the main reasons South African businesses employ foreign nationals is because we don’t have the skills, knowledge or expertise within our borders. Having a skills transfer plan in place is a great opportunity for local employers to upskill their employees and give them an opportunity to learn from foreigners so that they can cultivate the skills that are needed within their business as well as the country. Besides requesting a copy of the company’s skills transfer plan, DHA may further request to interview people who have been earmarked to learn from the foreign nationals,” concludes Jacobs.