XPATWEB INDUSTRY NOTE
The Contact Centre Industry of South Africa stands to lose skilled resources, both current and new, based on the new Critical Skills List Gazetted on 1 February 2022, and its additional requirements.
The industry successfully lobbied through several avenues for the list to include numerous Contact Centre related occupations. However, the list newly prescribes a minimum NQF level of qualification per category,as a prerequisite to applying for a Critical Skills Work Visa.
In 2020, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) published the bi-annual list of Occupations in High Demand (OIHD) in South Africa. Along with this list, a “Technical Report for 2020 Skills List” was released outlining an updated critical skills list for consideration by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). This list was published in March 2021 by the DHA as the draft Critical Skills list for public comment. Xpatweb provided vital inputs into this list based on our annual Critical Skills survey which has been running for the past 5 years, and our Managing Director, Ms Marisa Jacobs was invited and served on the NEDLAC committee to represent the business sector with Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) along with stakeholders from Labour, Community and Government Departments.
New Critical Skills List
The new Critical Skills list accommodates 101 occupations in total, down from 167.
Some notable inclusions that were left off the draft list were “Corporate General Manager” and “Foreign Language Speakers”.
Corporate General Manger
The occupation Corporate General Manager was removed from the draft list and extensive motivation was provided for its re-inclusion on the final list. This request was heeded to by the DHET and DHA and the finallist now includes both “Corporate General Manager” and “Director”.
However, these occupations are not completely unscathed, as there are several new parameters including(a) that the applicant must have a firm offer of employment, (b) that the employer must be considered a medium or large enterprise, and (c) that the applicant must have a minimum NQF level 8 qualification as determined by the South African Qualification Authority (SAQA).
Foreign Language Speaker
It came as a big surprise when Foreign Language Speakers did not make it onto the draft list and the industry immediately rallied to motivate why this is a vital inclusion.
Some of the motivating points provided by the industry included the economic contribution and impact of the BPO sector and jobs created through this industry. Motivation was strong and the final list now includes this occupation along with “Customer Service Manager” and several other critical occupations that are utilised throughout call centres.
As mentioned above, the new list requires a minimum NQF level qualification for each occupation ranging from level 3 to level 10 and mostly NQF levels 8 and 9 are required. The Immigration Act of 2002, as amended, requires that a critical skills visa applicant must have the necessary “qualification and/or experience” for the position. The revised list now clearly defines that a qualification is required for each occupation on the list.
It is unclear how experience will be taken into consideration and the NEDLAC engagement specifically called for clarity hereon. The technical report references this engagement and the DHET has proposed that the DHA consider how it could use experience as a requirement for CSL applicants as part of its application processes.
Business Process Outsourcing – Contact Centres
The additional requirements pose a number of challenges and there has been uncertainty amongst employers and expatriates alike since the release of the list and how this will impact current critical skills holders and future applicants, as it is demonstrated by the NQF level requirement.
The technical report gives further clarity on how the list will be implemented and how certain categories will be identified and defined. A brief look at these points and how it applies to the BPO sector specifically, is unpacked below.
The industry professional body Contact Centre Management Group (“CCMG”) has confirmed that their expatriate members are spread across various fields that span a range of categories on the 2022 Critical Skillslist. Notable among these categories are –
- Director (NQF 8)
- Corporate General Manager (NQF 8)
- Quality Systems Manager (NQF 8)
- Programme or Project Manager (NQF 8)
- Customer Service Manager (NQF 8)
- Data Management Manager (NQF 8)
- Call/Contact Centre Manager (NQF 8)
- Inbound Contact Centre Consultant (NQF 4)
- Outbound Contact Centre Consultant (NQF 4)
Xpatweb | New Critical Skills List 20223With the release of these categories, NQF levels have been imposed on the eligibility of the applicants.However, these NQF levels are considered to be high when compared to the NQF level required by the CCMG to award a designation in the corresponding occupation category, and as such, challenges are anticipated with the implementation of the new list and these new requirements.
As with any law changes, we expect to see some initial teething problems and especially with adjudicating officials placed at Embassies all around the world. Getting everyone on the same page in terms of the requirements to qualify for a visa under the revised list will present several issues in the coming months.This may range from determining qualifying criteria on the new list, documentary proof of the qualifying criteria, time frames to cater for back and forth where there is uncertainty and internal checking etc.Please be advised that this is uncharted territory not only for all of us but also for the DHA and its officials.Latest developments confirm that all new visa applications being filed abroad are redirected to the DHA Head Office for adjudication. This can only be to ensure some uniformity in the initial stages of adjudication ahead of some training and familiarization to Embassy officials before normal adjudication at Embassy level commences again.
In light of the above, it is prudent that we caution our clients to carefully consider the preparation of new applications, the assessment to determine best suited category to apply under and the documentation included to demonstrate the candidate qualifies in the category selected.
New applications will be widely open to interpretation, and it is our role when preparing your application,to make it clear to the adjudicator that the applicant indeed qualifies for a visa under the new Critical Skills list
Submission to the Department for an Industry Wide Consideration
The CCMG together with Xpatweb are finalizing a submission to the DHA, on behalf of members, to motivate for a blanket consideration in terms of specifically the NQF level requirement for the Contact Centre industry.We have prepared a detailed submission showing the impact, the practical application of the list in terms of Contact Centres, the projected future requirements for expatriate skills by business in the industry and related sector growth.
There have been similar concessions made by the DHA on previous occasions to support business and ease the process and we have motivated strongly to appeal and have faith they will heed our request and welcome engagement on the topic.
We will keep members abreast of the developments hereon. However, while this is in process businesses will be impacted in the short term and it is vital that we look at immediate ways to assist employers.
Industry Next Steps
We are recommending a roadmap approach to employers looking at current resources, assessing them against the new list and planning proactively the road ahead for each resource. This may include exploring different occupations on the list, NQF level assessment (and progression) and in most extreme cases a different category of visa altogether.There may also be an opportunity to address some challenges with a group application where suitable.Furthermore, in an effort to petition a directive for the lowering of the NQF levels requirement we will be engaging with the department, on behalf and for the industry.
With our experience directly with the Department of Home Affairs and their relevant stake holders for Critical Skills Work Visa requirements and processes, and the support of CCMG, we are confident that we will be able to make a compelling case for a directive to be issued for these changes.
Sharing of Insights
We are uniquely placed to provide insights due to past involvement in policy design and our specialist knowledge and experience of the Critical Skills work visa category specifically.
We welcome you to get in touch for a consultation to discuss your specific challenges and we will work with you to navigate this new territory and find a solution that will work for your business.
We look forward to hearing from you.