South Africa on Tuesday said around 250,000 Zimbabweans living in the country on temporary visas due to expire this year can get three-year extensions, delaying a possible mass expulsion of workers.
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said a scheme that allowed Zimbabweans to flee the political crisis at home on four-year work visas would be extended until 2017.
"The new special permit is valid only for three years," Gigaba told reporters, making it clear this was only a reprieve for worried Zimbabweans.
Following violence-tainted elections in 2008 and land grabs that spooked investors, Zimbabwe plunged into a deep recession that saw sky-high unemployment and hyperinflation running into the billions of percent.
Zimbabweans can be found across South Africa working in the mining, retail, service and financial sectors.
But Gigaba, part of a government under pressure to stem South Africa's own high and growing levels of unemployment, indicated the hospitality would come to an end.
Although the Zimbabwean economy is still struggling with unemployment rates of over 50 percent, Gigaba said the next three years would allow those who want to return home to do so.
"We believe the conditions (in Zimbabwe) have improved and will continue to improve," he said.
South Africa in May introduced immigration reforms aimed at tightening visa regulations and closing loopholes.