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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.
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.