What is the change? South Africa is in the midst of switching to a biometric background check system for applications that require South African police clearance certificates.

What does the change mean? Foreign nationals submitting in-country applications that require South African police clearance can do so through a new service that checks their fingerprints against the South African police database. This option costs 175 rand (about US$13.85) and has been available since Nov. 1. Beginning Jan. 1, however, visa application centers in South Africa will stop accepting hardcopy police clearance certificates and will move exclusively to the automated system.

  • Implementation time frame: Jan. 1.
  • Visas/permits affected: Any visa or permit requiring a South African police clearance certificate.
  • Who is affected: Foreign nationals applying in-country for change of condition, renewal or extension of their visa or permanent residence who are in need of a South African police clearance certificate. The change does not affect applicants who are in need of a police clearance from a country other than South Africa or who are applying for visas or permits at South African missions abroad.
  • Impact on processing times: The new service will significantly reduce processing times. Obtaining a hardcopy police clearance through the South African Police Service often takes three to six weeks, and sometimes longer.

Background: South African police clearance certificates are required for foreign nationals who are submitting immigration applications and have resided in South Africa for 12 months or more since turning 18 years old. Visa application centers are now able to check an applicant’s fingerprints against the appropriate police database, eliminating the need for hardcopy police clearance certificates.

BAL Analysis: The new system will save significant time in the application process for most applicants. Those who suspect they might have a criminal conviction in South Africa, however, should disclose this to BAL in order to leave time to apply for the appropriate records to provide information to authorities about the nature of the conviction.

This alert has been provided by the BAL South Africa office. For additional information, please contact

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