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FAQ – US Immigration, Visas & Passports
Disclaimer: While we have made every attempt to ensure the accuracy of the answers below, we are not immigration attorneys. It is up to you to verify this information before you act upon it.
General questions about US immigration.
South Africa’s Constitution says that all South Africans living abroad, and who are over 18 years old, can vote in the country’s national elections.
To do so, you have to register to vote, have a valid South African ID and South African Passport, and submit a VEC10 form to the IEC. The VEC10 form becomes available after the President announced the election date.
If you think you may be registered to vote, but want to verify, go to the IEC website and use your ID number to check.
Then, on election day, go to your nearest South African Embassy, Consulate, or High Commission to cast your vote. (Take your South African ID and Passport with you.)
To get more information, visit VoteHome.
This is a question we get a lot!
In short, no, we cannot help you get a job in the US.
We are not an employment agency and we don’t have any special contacts in the world of US employment. So please don’t send us your CV or résumé! We wouldn’t know what to do with it!
The best we can do is to offer some advice, or tell you how things work, but that’s all we can do. If you are interested in coming to the US, read our answer to the question, How do I immigrate to the US?
This is a question we get a lot! There is almost not a month that goes by without a South African emailing us to ask how to immigrate to the USA. So don’t feel alone if you’re wondering about it!
In a nutshell, unfortunately, it is not easy to immigrate to the USA. The difficulty lies in getting the proper visa.
The problem-free way to get into the US is to win in the green card lottery… if you’re lucky enough to win! If you win, you enter the US and can work for whoever you want, and can change jobs whenever you like. You can do everything a US citizen can do, except to vote. This option also allows you to become a US citizen after certain residency requirements have been met (usually 5 years).
The next option is to try to find a job in the US, and that requires that you get a H1-B work visa. Many South Africans used to come to the US on a work visa, and many still do. However, it has become much more difficult to get a H1-B visa. You basically need to find a job at a company who is willing to sponsor the H1-B visa. Fewer and fewer companies are willing to do that these days due to a good supply of US workers. If you have rare skills, your chances are much better. Nurses are apparently in short supply. As I said, for this option, your first step is to find a job with a US company who is willing to sponsor the H1-B visa. To do that, start off at a jobs website like Monster.com to search for jobs and create a résumé (CV) in the format that US companies like. Another popular jobs site is Indeed.com. Also read these tips about writing a résumé. After you have the job and are in the US, your next step is to pursue a Green Card.
Some people marry US citizens, but that only works if the marriage is genuine. If there is any doubt, the US government will scrutinize the marriage carefully to determine if it is genuine. (Remember the movie, Green Card?) After the marriage, you can apply for a Green Card.
If you have a business in South Africa, the L1 visa may be an option for you. Read our article about using an L1 visa to enter the US.
These are the major legal ways to immigrate to the US. There are other ways too. See the US State Dept website for more information.
Given the difficulty of entering the US these days, if you are serious about leaving South Africa, you may want to look at other countries like Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada, etc. as well. It is often much easier to get into those countries, especially if you are younger and have good skills.
This is a problem that everybody has in the beginning. Which shops sell what? There is no Pick ‘n Pay or CNA in the US, so where do you buy groceries, medicine, books etc in Austin?
Here is a list some of the things you may be looking for, and where you can buy it. (If you’re an “old-timer” in Austin and have some shops to add, please use our contact form to let us know.)
- Groceries: H.E.B., Randalls, Walmart, Kroger, Costco (bulk shopping), Brookshire Brothers (smaller towns)
- Pharmacy: Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Costco
- Clothes & Shoes: Sears, Mervyns, Target, Payless Shoes, Kohls
- Hardware: Home Depot, Lowe’s, Sears, Ace Hardware
- Electronics: Walmart, Best Buy, Sears, Fry’s Electronics
- Books & Music: Barnes & Noble, Borders
- Sporting Goods: Academy, Walmart
Needless to say, this list is not complete, but it will get you started. You’ll notice that the big chain stores come up in many of these categories. For example, Walmart sells everything from groceries to clothes to electronics and sporting goods.
We have an information page dedicated to Austin. You can find it here.
Questions about South African passports and US passports.
Yes, new regulations came into effect in 2015 for people that travel to South Africa with a child.
In an effort to help stop child trafficking, the South African government implemented the rule that any adult entering or leaving South Africa with a child (under 18 years old), must produce the child’s birth certificate at the time of entry or departure.
If the child is not accompanied by both parents, a signed affidavit from the parents needs to be shown, giving the adult permission to travel with the child. If only one parent is traveling with the child, that parent will also need a signed affidavit from the non-traveling parent, giving permission to travel with the child.
Here is a PDF leaflet from Home Affairs that spells out all the rules.
When you renew your South African passport while living in the US, the first thing to know is that South Africa has an embassy and two consulates in the US. Your first step is to find out which office will handle your passport renewal application.
Texas falls under the jurisdiction of the SA Embassy in Washington, DC. Although you get the necessary forms and information from the Consulate in New York, you have to submit your application to the Embassy in Washington, DC. You have to work through the embassy, i.e. you’re not allowed to send your renewal application directly to Pretoria.
Contact the SA Embassy at 3051 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20008. Tel: (202) 232-4400. Fax: (202) 265-1607.
To get the application forms and all other relevant information, go to the Home Affairs section of the Consulate in New York. Here you can find all you need for a regular tourist passport and for a child passport. (When obtaining the forms, take note that the form for fingerprints, BI-9, is not downloadable. You have to request one by mail and send in a self-addressed stamped envelope along with the request.)
Make sure you send in the correct fees. You also have to send in two copies of the application and supporting documentation, i.e. fill it out and then make a copy of everything.
Processing of a new passport application can take 6 months or more. If your travel to South Africa will take place within the next 6 months, apply for a temporary passport as well. Keep in mind, however, that temporary passports are being phased out and will only be issued in cases of real emergencies, e.g. death or illness (vacations don’t count). Temporary passports are processed at the Consulate or Embassy in the US, and processing time is 3 weeks.
This whole process of renewing your South African passport is cumbersome and time-consuming. It is probably a good idea to keep an eye on your passport’s expiration date and start the process of obtaining all the forms about 9 months before expiration of your current passport.
There is lot of debate about whether the US allows dual citizenship. Some argue that the renunciation of all foreign allegiances during the US citizenship oath ceremony effectively means you are giving up your previous citizenship when taking the oath. However, as far as I can tell, the US govt. tolerates it. I believe the official position of the US Dept. of State is that they don’t encourage it, but they also don’t go after people who hold another nationality in addition to US citizenship.
From the South African govt’s point of view, yes, you can have dual citizenship, but you have to apply with the South African government to retain your South African citizenship before you start your US citizenship process.
There has been some confusion on exactly what the requirements are from the South African government’s side. This article on the SA Consultate in New York’s website, while attempting to remove all confusion, has led people to believe that, after Sep 2004, there is no further need to apply for any letters from the SA government.
However, the article only addresses one aspect of this issue, namely traveling on a foreign passport. Before 2004, in accordance with Article 9 of South African Citizenship Act of 1995, you had to apply for permission to use the US passport you would be receiving after gaining US citizenship. Article 9 has been repealed in Sep 2004 and you no longer need to apply for permission to use a foreign passport.
Unfortunately the article doesn’t mention that Article 6 of the South African Citizenship Act of 1995 still stands. Article 6 requires that you apply for permission to retain your South African citizenship before you acquire any other citizenship.
To summarize, here’s how to go about getting dual citizenship:
- Apply for permission to retain your South African citizenship. Contact your closest SA Embassy or Consulate for details. If you live in Texas, contact the SA Embassy in Washington, D.C.
- After receiving your permission letter, go through the US citizenship process.
- After getting US citizenship and a US passport, use your South African passport to enter or leave South Africa, and you are free to use your US passport for all other travel.
Please be aware that the information above may change. It is up to you to verify it.
If your child was born in the USA, he or she is a US citizen (even if you are not).
Your child is entitled to a US passport. Contact your local authorities and get a copy of your child’s birth certificate. Certain Post Offices have been appointed as passport agencies. (Be aware that some of these Post Offices require an appointment, even if their page on the USPS website says they don’t require it. Call to be safe!) You can get the application form at the Post Office and also have the pictures taken there.
Because you are a South African citizen, your child is also entitled to South African citizenship. Here is how to register your child’s birth in South Africa.
This is a common question… Your South African passport expired and you have to travel to South Africa within the next 6 months. As a South African living abroad, you know the passport renewal process is slow. What do you do?
If you only have South African citizenship, or you are a dual US/SA citizen, you will have to renew your passport. (Obviously, if you are now a US citizen only, you only travel with your US passport and your old SA passport doesn’t matter.)
In the past, the process was to apply for a temporary passport, as well as a regular passport. However, as of Sep 1, 2014, temporary passports have been phased out.
If you have an emergency situation, like a death or sickness in the family, you can apply for an Emergency Travel Certificate (ETC), which is issued for a period of 1-12 months. These can be issued in one week. You will be required to apply for a regular passport at the same time.
As a Texas resident, contact the SA Embassy in Washington DC at (202) 232-4400 to get the process started.
Keep in mind that, as a South African here in Austin recently experienced, the Emergency Travel Certificate is issued for one-way only. It is collected upon arrival in South Africa. You will need a second ETC for your return trip to the US.
With the phasing out of the temporary passports, it has become very important for South Africans living abroad to ensure that their passports are renewed well in advance of their expiry dates. If your passport has less than 9 months until expiry, start the renewal process immediately.
You can get more information about Emergency Travel Certificates here.
Questions about visas for entering the United States.
First of all, just in case anyone is in doubt, your SA family will definitely need a US tourist visa to visit you in the US. The US has an agreement with some countries where their citizens can visit the US without a tourist visa, but South Africa is not on the list.
A good place for you to start if you want to help them, is to send your family a letter of invitation to visit you in the US.
Your family starts off by making an appointment for an interview for a non-immigrant visa (NIV). All the information for this process can be found here. They can also download a printable PDF guide.
Warning: Beware of Scammers!
The Green Card lottery is a lottery in which the prize is a Permanent Residence visa, more commonly known as a “Green Card”. It is run annually by the US government, and there are 55,000 visas available each year. The process is more or less as follows:
- Entrants send in their entries during a specified time period. Each entry is assigned a number.
- A computer randomly draws 100,000 numbers and these people are invited to apply for a US immigration visa.
- The applications for the visas are reviewed on a first-come-first-served basis, and if the paperwork is in order and visas are still available, you will be notified of an interview date and location.
- The interview takes place, and if all goes well (it should), you are issued an immigration visa. This is not the green card yet.
- Upon entry in the US, you get a temporary green card in your passport. The real thing arrives by mail about 6 weeks later.
We want to stress that it doesn’t cost anything to enter the green card lottery. The first time you have to pay any money, is when you pay an administration fee at the time of the interview.
Watch out for companies who charge a fee to enter you in the lottery. They often try to create the impression that they can improve your chances of winning, citing all kinds of statistics of past successes. They may have had past successes, but they can’t improve your chances – they can only make sure you don’t get disqualified because of an incorrect entry. You don’t have to make use of their services. The entry process is simple. If you can follow instructions, you can easily do it yourself.
There are websites who will try to scam you into sending them money. Watch out for them! This has become such a big problem that the US government now even posts warnings about green card scammers on their website.
For more information, go to the US State Department DV Lottery website. You can also look at the instructions for the latest lottery to get important information and an idea of how simple the entry process really is.
If you have any other US immigration or US/SA passport related questions, send them to us. We will attempt to find the answer for you.
We want to get out of SA.
Hi Cindy. Take a look at How Do I Immigrate To The USA? to get some ideas on the options available
I hope you can help.
We have begun looking at the possibilities of immigration. I have a sister in the USA with a greencard. Are you able to point me in the right direction? for info and really just how to start.
Thanks in advance.
Hi Kaycee. Look at this post – How do I immigrate to the USA? – https://www.sa-austin.com/faqs/immigrate-to-the-usa
Hi….Please advise can’t seem to find any posts regarding EB1 or EB2 Visas?
Appreciate any input, insight and advice…especially regarding business brokers?
Hi Sean. Will this article help? – https://www.sa-austin.com/immigration/green-cards-e-visa.html
Hi, my husband and I received our green cards 2 years ago but we have not taken up residency in USA as we are both still working in RSA. We do however enter the USA every 6 months for a week.
My son-in-law has been diagnosed with cancer and we would like to defer our move to USA. Is this advisable and how do we do it? We do not have a tax number in the USA, is this a problem? Should we see an immigration attorney as my husband has an overseas investment and the investment company want to know if we have green cards and what our tax numbers are.
Hi Dellie. Your question involves a bit more than your “run of the mill” questions. About the green card issue and deferring your US residency, it would be best if you consult with an immigration attorney. The immigration attorney might be able to answer your question overseas investment as well. If you’d like a recommendation, send me a message via our website contact form.
Hi John, thank you for your response. Can you recommend an immigration attorney, we live close to OR Tambo International so preferably someone on the East Rand.
I’d like to find out if anyone would be able to guide me in the right direction.
In Febraury I visited Houston to do a conversion of my SACAA aircraft maintenance engineers license to the FAA Fedral Aviation authority A&P mechanics license. I work on US registered aircraft in Saudi Arabia so it was a requirement.
Would having a US issued qualification/License be of any benefit as to obtaining a H1B work visa? Would I still need to have a company sponsor me?
Would appreciate any knowledge on this
Really enjoyed my time in Texas!
Martin Du Toit
Martin, the US-issued license may be helpful to you because there may not be too many people with that license. That said, you will still need a US company to sponsor you for the H1-B visa because those visas give permission to work for a specific company.
Is there an article on how living in texas is for South Africans? I.e. cost of living, sports and lifestyle, housing options and prices?
Hi Derik. We don’t currently have such an article, but I added it to the list of articles to write. Even though it doesn’t answer your specific questions, here’s an article that gives more info on Austin.
Hi, I really want to immigrate to Texas, I just cant seem to find info on my studies. I am finishing high school soon and have to start looking at what would be better
What is the better process of studying law? Is it better to study here in South Africa? Does the US accept that? Or would I have to redo all my subjects when I get there?
Or would it be better to immigrate and try to apply for a study loan there?
Hi Christine. I will send you the name of a South African immigration attorney here in the US to ask your question to. This person may be best suited to answer you since they not only know immigration law, but also know what it took to be able to practice in the US.
We are looking into immigrating to texas.would it be possible to get names of staffing / recruitment agencies from someone? I did apply to the group as well.find it hard to get names of ppl who can assist with available jobs.
Hi Alma. Take a look at Indeed.com. They seem to be popular these days.
What liscence do you need to drive Dodge Ram with farm trailer in texas
You may have to verify with the Texas DPS, but I believe a regular class C license is good.
Do you need to do driving test over or is South African drivers converted
You need to do the driving test again.
What medical aid is good to go with in texas
There are many different medical insurance plans to consider. The benefits depend on how much you are willing to pay per month. Some site, like eHealthinsurance, show you different plans with different benefits and you pick which one suits you best.
Hi Guys !
I there any South African in Texas who cares to sponsor me to come to the US. I’ve always wanted to live & work in the US. it’s difficult to get “employment sponsorship (visa)” from here in SA to there, so then I’m thinking “Friend/Family Sponsor” will do. Any advice on this maybe?
Enter the Green Lottery, which should be opening again in October.
We are from south Africa. We would like to imagrate to Texas. Is there any one that can assist us or just tell us what we need to do
There isn’t any single option for coming to the US. You have to pick an option that you think you may qualify for, and then go with that. Here’s something that will give you an idea: https://www.sa-austin.com/faq/immigrate-to-the-usa
That link mentions the Green Card lottery. Definitely make a point of entering that. It may be a long shot, but if you win, you’re in a great position because you can walk into the US and work anywhere you want. The next entry period will be open next month.
If you are on Facebook, also join this group: Immigration USA – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1356477814413369/. You will get honest advice there. I know the admins of that group and they are good people.
Any referral to Us Immigration attorneys in South Africa?
Hi Fanie. I have given a referral in my reply to the email that you sent us.
any guidance on minimum capital requirements?