Exceptional skills work permits, whether through temporary or permanent residence, remains one of the most sought after categories of permit options.

For temporary residence, an exceptional skills work permit entitles the applicant the right to pursue work in the area of expertise and skills without having to be bound to an employer or deal with additional administrative requirements as in the case of general, quota or intra-company transfer work permits.

Similarly, from a permanent residence perspective it allows the right to direct permanent residence without any conditions attached to such residency rights.

Yet, exceptional skills remains a discretionary category on the part of the Department of Home Affairs, which thus requires very careful attention to ensure that success is assured.

Moreover, the immigration laws are silent on an actual definition of what exceptional skills means save for a set of requirements that are arguably vague and deficient, which leaves an applicant in many cases unsure as to the potential outcome when applying.

There are three typical areas of risk emerge for certain applicants; the applicant that has a strong academic background but little experience in the industry; the applicant with little academic background but strong skills developed and refined through experience; and finally the more creative and non-professional occupational fields of work and skills.

In essence, our Department has applied the exceptional skills requirement as a ‘one size fits all’ by adopting conventional and open-ended criteria like publications, qualifications and a series of well articulated motivational letters and testimonials to establish sufficient evidence of exceptional skills. Had it been set in a manner that was ‘administrative’ in nature then much of the confusion and frustration would have been avoided.

This has resulted in many applicants becoming disillusioned when in substance they may be exceptional, yet, the manner in which the application is composed and presented has compromised their application as a rejection, which was never the intention by our Department when the new Immigration Act 13 of 2002 and its amendment was passed in 2004 read with its Regulations.

It is therefore advised that any application for exceptional skills is conservatively approached with the utmost precision and attention to detail in the components and presentation of such application to avoid an unwanted outcome.

It is therefore advised to consult with qualified and reputable immigration lawyers and consultants on such matters rather than face potential rejection, which could have been avoided from the outset.

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