South Africa-based German immigration company Imcosa, which handles permit applications for all permit types, believes that the biggest potential for German investment in South Africa lies in energy production, especially renewable energy, in which Germany is among the most technically advanced countries in the world.
“German engineers are known for their expertise in the energy sector; therefore, we have arranged for several German engineers to assist at the Medupi power plant,” says Imcosa founder and director Julia Willand.
She states that South African immigration laws and procedures can be a stumbling block for German companies and they need to factor that into any plan for investment in the South African market.
She further explains that, although the relevant permits can be obtained, there is a need for sufficient lead time and German companies should expect limitations to flexibility when bringing in German personnel to South Africa.
“We find that German companies make big project plans and prepare to come to South Africa, only to realise too late that they need appropriate, valid permits to do so. They often underestimate the importance of the immigration compliance part of the project plan and need to consider this at the beginning of the process to get the timing right,” she says.
Imcosa director Stefan Willand notes that many companies struggle with the procedures of South Africa’s immigration system, as it is not flexible in terms of allowing ad hoc, quick entry into the country.
“If there is an emergency and an expert needs to be brought in quickly, it is not that easily possible and that is one of the biggest challenges we face. There are strict procedures that need to be adhered to and factored in and, often, we find that human resource managers struggle to convey that to upper management,” he says, adding that the entire process should be taken more seriously.
Stefan Willand notes that, in Germany, the immigration rules are strict and there are similar scenarios; however, there are also agreements and strong economic trade links with certain countries, making it easier to expedite the process.
“There is a also a lot of red tape in Germany, but its permit application procedure is more predictable than that of South Africa’s. In South Africa, the process depends on which official you work with on a particular day. It is a major challenge, as a process that usually takes between three to four weeks can take up to six months from one month to the next,” he says.
Julia Willand points out that there are ways of reducing these types of risks and challenges.
“We predict the various challenges people might encounter and warn clients about them. We alleviate potential challenges through our relationships with immigration authorities and knowledge of which channels to use in addressing different challenges,” she says.
Stefan Willand notes that the biggest potential for German investment in South Africa lies in green energy, particularly solar and wind power, technology transfer on rail and engineering and in the automobile industry.
“Manufacturing plants in and around Port Elizabeth and companies that usually have head offices in Midrand or elsewhere around Johannesburg are traditionally strong areas that remain a good investment for German companies,” he notes.
Julia Willand adds that there is a strong German presence at trade shows in South Africa and that trade shows in Germany are being promoted locally, increasing the number of South African companies interested in Germany for investment purposes.
“There is growing cooperation between Germany and South Africa and, often, the two countries present joint stands at trade fairs, working together to promote companies and products,” she says.
Willand states that one of Imcosa’s main roles is to enable companies to establish themselves in South Africa from a legal compliance point of view. Imcosa has several clients that are active in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
“We assist management and staff members to obtain the correct work permits, which allow them to be based in South Africa and, from here, travel to the various sites and projects throughout the SADC region. The topic of permits is constantly underestimated, despite it being the starting point for future engagement in a country,” Stefan Willand says.
Skills Development and Social Responsibility
Imcosa hires, almost exclusively, untrained local staff and trains them over many years within the company to allow them to develop their skills.
“Other German companies also put considerable effort into hiring and training locals. This is partly owing to the high costs and frustration of bringing Germans into the country. In that sense, South Africa’s bureaucratic immigration policy might be successful,” he says.
Julia Willand notes that Imcosa does a lot in terms of social responsibility, such as working with nongovernmental organisation (NGO) Educo Africa, a youth development organisation that she chairs and which Imcosa supports financially.
“We also support a pre-primary school in the Capricorn township, outside of Cape Town, through monthly funding and assist with pro bono work for a few NGOs. We have also started a project where we support a group of young people offering township tours in the Imizamu Yethu township, next to Hout Bay, in Cape Town,” she says.
Willand adds that the company also promotes intercultural dialogue within its team.
“We organise what we call ‘hood visits’, which involves going to different parts of Cape Town and learning about each staff member’s culture, background and circumstances to promote a better understanding of one another,” she concludes.