Now that I have an appointment letter for my new position, I can move to my new home and start, right? Wrong! An international relocation is fraught with complexities. Have you seen a Mandelbrot set? Fractals are mathematical sets that are complex at every scale; no matter how much you zoom into an image of one, there’s more to see. Doing the paperwork for an international move is reminiscent of this complexity.
The key permit that I need to take this job allows me to live and work in South Africa. Because I was born in the United States, I can travel to South Africa without a visa for tourism or for business, but only if I’m planning to stay less than ninety days. My contract will run much longer than that, so I need a temporary residency permit. The TRP lets me live in-country for a period between three months and three years. Ideally I would start with a permanent residency permit, but the processing time required for these permits may be even longer than a year. The TRP, then, can allow a person to be in country long enough for processing a permanent residency permit.
As you can see from the above link, many kinds of persons can qualify for a TRP. I will apply for a “critical skills” permit, making the argument that South Africa does not currently have enough people who do what I do (proteome informatics), and thus my arrival will allow important research to advance that would otherwise not happen. During the time I have been in discussions with Stellenbosch University to create this position, though, the South African government significantly revised the visa process. Some of the changes are semantic; for example, the “exceptional skills” route is now called “critical skills.” Others may be substantial procedural hurdles, such as the requirement for an in-person visit to a South African Consulate General in New York or Washington, D.C. to acquire the visa. These changes took place only last summer, so employers and government offices alike are still grappling with the implementation of the new systems.
Convincing the consulate that I have critical skills is not a matter of simply flashing a resume at a diplomatic officer. Instead, I need to build an ironclad case that I can do what I say, that I am who I claim, and that my training is all that it has been. The organization that is most capable of aiding me in that is the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP), and I need to register myself. SACNASP, however, is not prepared to check my claims about my education. They work with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). They will confirm that my Ph.D. from University of Washington is genuine and that my B.S. from University of Arkansas is legitimate. Once they verify those documents, SACNASP can write a letter confirming my skills. At that point, the Medical Research Council can confirm that what I know is critically needed, and Stellenbosch University can explain that they have appointed me as a professor. Hopefully, the Department of Home Affairs can then grant me the visas I need to begin my job.
Wherever we look in nature, we find more complexity as we look closer. Perhaps the same rule applies to the workings of government!