The chairperson of Tata International, a subsidiary of the Indian multinational company responsible for managing its business in Africa, has slated South Africa’s immigration policy, saying it was taking too long to obtain visas and work permits for the company to deploy skilled managers to run its operations in Africa.
Speaking at the company’s headquarters in Mumbai, India, Noel Tata said they were increasingly frustrated by the amount of time it took for the company to obtain the necessary documents to allow it to assign employees from outside South Africa to its offices in Joburg.
“It is increasingly time-consuming to get visas for our business. We believe that, as a supervisory business, we ought to be granted a faster, quicker employment of visas to get into South Africa. We had to post people to Tanzania because it is easier to get visas and work permits there than in South Africa,” said Tata.
Tata International manages the group’s investments in more than 39 countries around the world, with an annual revenue of about $2.2bn (R30bn).
In Africa, it has a presence in South Africa and 13 other southern African countries. It also has a presence in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana.
In South Africa, it oversees the management of various businesses, including the vehicle-assembly plant in Rosslyn, north of Pretoria.
It also manages assets in the group’s hospitality business in Africa. This includes the luxurious Taj Hotel in the Cape Town CBD and its sister hotel, the Taj Pamodzi in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.
Tata International has about 50 staff members at its head office in the northern Joburg suburb Illovo, from which it manages all its operations in Africa.
Noel Tata said the company had to wait up to six months to obtain a visa or work permit if it needed to send highly skilled employees to South Africa.
“It’s taking much longer to get visas [for employees] to work in South Africa.”
He said that while he understood a significant portion of the workforce at the head office had to be sourced from South Africa, the company had a need to recruit a certain number of critical managers for its business – including strategic planning and financial control officers – from outside the country as well.
He said the company had yet to speak to government about its frustrations.
He could not rule out the possibility of these irritations leading to Tata International rethinking its decision to base its Africa operations in Johannesburg, but said that was not a consideration at the moment.
At the moment, African operations are contributing $373 million to Tata International’s overall business and the company is hoping to double this amount over the next five years.
Among its projects in the pipeline are the expansion of the company’s vehicle-assembly business.
This will possibly be done by setting up another plant in Nigeria and assembling passenger vehicles in South Africa.
The company is also investigating the possibility of opening up another Taj hotel in Durban.