How Long Does It Take To Immigrate

How Long Does It Take To Immigrate

How long does immigration take?

Immigration is not only quite an expensive affair, but it can also be exhausting. Many prospective immigrants greatly underestimate the time and effort it takes to move abroad and either start the process too late or believe that they can use a travel or other temporary visas to gain entry and stay in a country indefinitely.

This is especially true for people who plan to move abroad during certain life stages—having babies; children entering preschool, primary school, secondary school or varsity/college; after completing certain training or reaching a certain level of employment and so forth.

If you are considering emigration in future, it’s important to prepare in advance and have an estimate for the time required to immigrate to the different regions. For the sake of brevity we’ve focused solely on the most popular South African expat destinations.

Relocation requirements and time

Each country has its own rules, vetting process and a battery of tests to be completed by applicants who want to move there and these requirements all affect the time it takes to immigrate. Bear in mind, these requirements aren’t all necessary for individuals who are in these countries on temporary assignments, so we’ll cover immigration for long term or permanent purposes only.

We’ve touched on some requirements for entry into these countries, but note that the requirements for each region is far more complex and each country has its own:

  • list of skill shortages
  • language tests
  • financial requirements
  • character tests
  • background and criminal checks
  • application processes

For most countries immigration can be expedited through large investment or establishing a business abroad, but most people enter countries through work. If you’re considering relocation, take a look at the links to the respective skill shortages at the end of each section.


Average time for a work permit: 1 month

Average time for residency: 9 months

Average time for citizenship: 5 years

Canada’s is another popular immigration destination for South Africans and the country is quite open to new migrants.

There are two main immigration streams—one for Quebec and another for the rest of Canada. To apply for permanent residence, you will further need to choose among four main categories for emigration:

  • Economic application class
  • Family application class
  • Refugee application class
  • Other application class

Each of these classes have sub-classes. Depending on what criteria you meet, you may be able to enter the Express Entry pool which will expedite your immigration.

If you meet some or more of the following criteria you may be able to immigrate sooner:

  • Having family in Canada
  • Receiving a job offer from a Canadian employer
  • Having skills in a sector experiencing a labour shortage
  • Investing in a Canadian bank or company
  • Intention to start your own business in Canada
  • Being a self-employed worker with experience in the cultural, sport or agriculture sectors.
  • Having a permanent resident card

Depending on the criteria you meet, your move to Canada can take up to a year, and in most cases you will apply for citizenship after 5 years.

If you want to move to Canada, you can access the skilled worker demand list here.

United Kingdom

Average time for a work permit: 2 months

Average time for a residency permit: 9 months

Average time for citizenship: 5 years

As the most popular South African expat destination, the UK gets a tonne of new saffas to its shores each year. But immigrating to the UK can be a bit complicated to understand, and with Brexit looming in the near future it’s not yet clear how the rules will change.

Currently there are several settlement streams applicable to South Africans, including:

  • Proving right of abode
  • Settlement application on the death of a partner
  • Refugee or humanitarian protection
  • Stateless person application
  • UK residence card application
  • Returning resident visa
  • Derivative residence card

Residency is usually not immediately forthcoming, which means individuals will have to apply for visas on one of the four tiers (previously five) and gain their settlement rights thereafter. These tiers are:

  • Tier 1: Innovator visa (previously the Entrepreneur visa)
  • Tier 2: Skilled migrants visa
  • Tier 3: Low-skilled migrants < No visas were ever granted on this tier and it is therefore defunct but still widely known as ‘tier 3’.
  • Tier 4: Student visa
  • Tier 5: Temporary worker visa (creative, sporting, charity, religious, youth mobility

The most popular visa for South African immigrants is the Tier 2 visa. You will be able to apply for a residency card after six months in the country. To apply for permanent residency, you will need to have been in the country for five years OR have been married to a UK citizen for three years.

If you want to move to the UK, you can access the Tier 2 shortage occupation list here.


Average time for temporary residency/visa: will depend on the subclass, type of work and sponsor

Average time for an Australian PR visa: 10 months

Average time for citizenship: 4 years

Australia requires the completion of a skills assessment and the submission of an Expression of Interest to the Department of Border Protection and Immigration (DIBP) in order to apply for a skilled visa. The application is then submitted along with the required supporting documentation.

Furthermore, you will need to meet some basic requirements, including:

  • Being younger than 50
  • Having one year’s recent relevant work experience
  • Having your relevant qualifications assessed
  • Having the relevant skills (if nominating a skill)
  • Having English competency (determined by a test)
  • Meeting the health and character requirements.
  • Passing the visa points test with a minimum of 65 points.

Though you can theoretically move to Australia without a sponsorship, those without a state or territory sponsorship will rely solely on their points to immigrate.

An application for an Australian Permanent Residency (PR) visa takes 8 to 12 months and most individuals can apply for citizenship after 4 years in the country.

If you want to move to Australia, you can access the skills shortage list here and the skilled occupation list here.

United States of America

Average time for a work permit: 6 months (previously 3 months)

Average time for a green card: 20 months

Average time for citizenship: 5 years

The USA’s immigration requirements are quite different to other countries and it should be noted that the country has become more stringent in its immigration vetting. 

To live and work permanently in the USA you need to apply for a Green Card. There are eight different eligibility categories for a Green Card:

  • Green Card through Family
  • Green Card through Employment
  • Green Card as a Special Immigrant
  • Green Card through Refugee or Asylee Status
  • Green Card for Human Trafficking and Crime Victims
  • Green Card for Victims of Abuse
  • Green Card through Other Categories
  • Green Card through Registry

Note that although we placed the average time for getting a Green Card at 20 months, the time frame can be anything from 7 to 33 months depending on the category you use for your application.

Most South Africans enter the US through employment or family, but it should be noted that saffas are also eligible for entering the Diversity Visa Lottery. Entries open for a month each year from October to November.

If you want to move to the USA, you can access the H1B visa occupation list here. Note, these are listed into broad categories and you will need to check the subcategories for specific jobs.

New Zealand

Average time for temporary residency: 5 months

Average time for permanent residency: 2 years

Average time for citizenship: 5 years

Most people who move to New Zealand (as with other countries) start off with a temporary visa but if this isn’t you, then you’re looking at 6 to 12 months for temporary residence and around two years for permanent residency in New Zealand.

The length of time it takes to immigrate depends on the immigration route you take and which type of residency you’re applying for. The main categories are:

  • Residence from work
  • Residence through business (including investment)
  • Residence through partnership or family

It’s important to note that having family or a partner in New Zealand will not automatically give you residence, especially if you and your partner haven’t been together long, if your partner only has a temporary visa, or if you’re not dependent on (or a caregiver for) your relatives in New Zealand.

Once you’ve lived in New Zealand under a resident visa for 2 years you can apply for permanent residence, though it can be approved sooner under certain circumstances.

If you want to move to New Zealand, you can access the Long Term Skill Shortage List here, the Regional Skill Shortage List here,  and the Construction & Infrastructure Skill Shortage List here.


Average time for residency permit: 3 weeks

Average time for permanent residency: 5 years

Average time for citizenship: 8 years

Germany allows immigration under five main categories, though it must be mentioned that permanent residency will be easier to obtain under certain categories.

The five categories are:

  • Immigration for employment
  • Immigration for education
  • Immigration for entrepreneurs
  • Immigration for family reunions
  • Immigration residence permits

Though you can get a temporary visa without meeting the immigration requirements, you won’t be able to immigrate without meeting certain criteria, including having health insurance, having basic German proficiency and being financially stable.

Most people move to Germany through the employment or education streams and then receive their residence permits that way. If you’re studying in Germany and complete your degree you are, for instance, allowed to stay if you secure a job in Germany within a certain time period from receiving your qualification.

Immigration is far easier for investors, though it should be noted that the minimum investment amount is quite steep. 

There is also the European Union Blue Card which can be utilised to secure permanent residency. This card is available to foreign nationals who are not citizens of the EU but meet certain qualification criteria (highly skilled) and have already secured work in Germany.

The timeline for immigrating to Germany is a bit harder to pin down and would depend on your visa, time spent in Germany and other factors. All individuals who wish to stay in Germany for more than 90 days need to apply for a residency card, but permanent residence is generally only available after 5 years in the country and citizenship after 8 years.


Average time for provisional residency: 2 weeks

Average time for permanent residency: 2 years

Average time for citizenship: 5 years

Given that Dutch and Afrikaans share ties, many South Africans choose to resettle in the Netherlands.

Though immigration is generally the same as other countries, the process can be fast-tracked under certain conditions, such as:

  • if you’re immigrating for family reunification
  • if you have a Dutch partner who is a legal resident with sufficient income
  • if you’re sponsored by a Dutch company

One of the easiest ways to enter the country is through sponsorship. The sponsoring country will start the Entry and Residency Procedure (TEV), which takes approximately two weeks. If it is approved, you may or may not receive an authorisation for temporary stay (MVV). You can use the MVV to collect your residency permit, or if you have not been issued an MVV you can apply for your permit once you enter the country.

The company will need to pay you above a certain threshold to qualify as a highly skilled migrant.

Ready to move?

No matter your chosen destination, you will need assistance with your cross-border finances. Whether converting your rands to foreign currency, opening bank accounts, getting tax clearance or moving your savings abroad—Rand Rescue can assist you on your journey. To talk to us about your specific needs, simply leave your details below and we’ll contact you!


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