Home Affairs’ last-minute move extends concession for 56,000 foreign residents until end of the year
The Department of Home Affairs has yet again issued a last-minute reprieve, extending a blanket concession for long-term visa or waiver applicants awaiting decisions on their applications.
The holders of the long-term visas can now legally remain in South Africa until 31 December 2023, although the lateness of the decision – 48-hours before these visa holders technically expire – has drawn sharp criticism.
The directive was issued this morning to the Home Affairs head office and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation’s Consular Services and Visa Facilitation Centres (VFS) to communicate this decision.
The decision means visa applicants are permitted to legally remain in South Africa until the end of the year, pending the finalisation of their applications. Those travelling on passports issued by countries that are not visa-exempt, are required to apply for a visitor’s visa to return to South Africa until their applications have been finalised.
Had this not been issued, more than 56,000 businesspeople, foreign staff and other international residents, who have been unable to formalise their settlement plans in South Africa due to the department’s red tape and applications backlog spanning more than a decade, would have been forced to leave the country – or risk deportation – after 31 March 2023.
We give people employment. My husband has a company that employs 30 people. If I take my husband and I leave the country, those people will lose their jobs.
Friday had been D-Day for immigrants. Unable to process residence applications swiftly, due to an antiquated paper-based system, corruption and the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, the department was putting the screws on international visitors, telling them to leave to avoid being kicked out.
The uncertainty is causing misery for families, business owners and skilled foreign workers, many of whom have lived in limbo, dependent on temporary visitors’ visas, while their applications are “in process”.
One resident, a German mother who has two South African-born children and a South African husband, said they moved to the country in 2007.
“I came in on a spousal visa because [we] weren’t married yet and had a child already. After five years, we decided to apply for permanent residency. We did everything the right way. And then, after about two years, I was so upset that they hadn’t come back to me yet, that I went into Home Affairs, and they basically said, if we haven’t contacted you yet, it’s most likely that it had been denied,” the person told Business Maverick on condition of anonymity.
Months later, she heard that her application had indeed been denied, on the grounds that her children – all minors – cannot financially support her.
The couple lodged an appeal (in 2012) and have been waiting ever since.
On Facebook, she found a group of foreigners in a similar position, who launched a class action against Home Affairs in May 2021, based on the fact that applications and appeals are taking longer than eight months. Home Affairs did not oppose the first matter, agreed to settle and issue the permits. The consultancy behind the legal action, Global Migration SA, has called for more applicants to join the action.
In the meantime, the German woman had to reapply for her temporary visa every two years. The family have now had enough and are planning to relocate elsewhere.
“We give people employment. My husband has a company that employs 30 people. If I take my husband and I leave the country, those people will lose their jobs. Home Affairs doesn’t see it. They don’t see who they are denying visas to. It’s bizarre. It’s so beyond me.”
A Swedish citizen, also married to a South African, also came forward to complain about the process. He has a successful tech business and has lived in the country for a decade.
“Do you know that Sweden was the first country in the world to recognise the ANC? And this is how they treat foreigners?”
He says he has consulted numerous immigration lawyers, who are also at a loss. So, instead of being banned from South Africa for five years, he planned to take his business to another African country, which is welcoming his investment and is excited about his project.
“If you look at my business, what we are doing and planning to do will bring in massive revenue. It’s an unbelievable loss to the economy.”
A US citizen had been told by his employer, a global consultancy, that if he cannot produce a visa by Friday, he will be on borrowed time. He considers himself fortunate: A friend has been told that come the 31st, he will have no job in South Africa.
Always at the 11th hour
On Monday, Eldorette Isaacson from Global Migration told Business Maverick that she was unsure whether the minister of home affairs will issue another directive providing a blanket extension. “These directives have always been issued at the 11th hour. Some of the officials we spoke to at head office are unable to say whether another directive will be issued.
“The way we understand it is, all foreigners whose temporary residence visas expired, who have applications/waiver applications pending at the department must remain in the country awaiting the outcome of their applications. If a directive is not issued, they should not depart the country as immigration at the Ports of Control will deem them undesirable.”
Comedy of errors
On 1 September 2022, the department was forced to backtrack on its decision to centralise the adjudication of long-term visas, after six months. Embassies, which were previously accused of endangering national security or harming the economy, reported Business Insider, were then put back in charge of issuing visas. Companies affected, including some that had signed up to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s investment drive, complained bitterly about delays of about a year in processing work visas for critical foreign staff.
On 31 September 2022 came the news that the department had decided to introduce some temporary measures to “address the situation they find themselves in”.
In a high-handed statement issued that day, the department announced that foreigners whose visa applications were still pending are “hereby granted a blanket temporary extension till 31st March in order for the department to processes applications and for applicants to collect the outcomes and submit applications for appropriate visas applicants who wish to abandon their visa applications and depart from South Africa when able to do so will be allowed to exit at a port of entry on or before the 31st of March without being declared undesirable”.
On 22 November, Andreas Krensel from IBN Immigration Solutions warned that they were currently seeing an “extremely damaging development”, in that a high number of rejections were coming from the VFS or the Department of Home Affairs for applications submitted in South Africa, but also submitted overseas.
“We all know that there’s a massive backlog in South Africa, that’s why the Department of Home Affairs keeps on extending certain deadlines. There is also a massive backlog due to the centralisation attempt from the overseas missions. That has been reversed, but obviously there are still many applications stuck [in] processing.”
Krensel said many applications were being rejected unjustly, alleging that “Home Affairs officials have clear KPIs to adjudicate X number [about 20] applications per day. This leads to a very, very high number of rejections. The rejection reasoning in most cases we have seen [is] wrong. The DHA wording is bad and does not withstand an appeal.
“This is a very unfortunate situation. We had a client where the rejection said, ‘Well, the doctor didn’t pick up the phone, therefore we couldn’t verify the medical certificate’. This is just a single incident: one of our employees came back from VFS yesterday and she shared that most immigration firms collecting these rejections from the VFS offices are all having the same issues. There is a very clear pattern emerging now from within Home Affairs.”
Who’s at fault?
The department has said it only expects to have cleared the paper logjam by about the middle of 2024.
During the debate on the State of the Nation Address on 15 February 2023, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi addressed the department’s digitisation process, saying they planned to hire 10,000 unemployed young graduates to computerise Home Affairs’ paper-based records.
He said they will be contracted for three years to transform the records into digital files.
All the 10,000 were expected to be on the job by the end of April 2023.
Acting director of immigration services Yusuf Simons told members of Parliament’s home affairs committee this month that measures to address the backlogs included bringing in more adjudicators, using overtime and reducing the number of layers of adjudication that an application has to go through before being considered by the director-general.
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It currently is said to take eight months to process a permanent residence permit application because it has to go through six processes.
The department planned to focus on processing applications lodged between 2016 and 2019, but that had to be balanced with the need to “urgently process economic-related visas”. The priority was to deal with applications for critical skills, business and work visas.
The latest concession is only applicable to applicants who have submitted an application via VFS on or before 31 March 2023.
All visitors on short-term visas whose validity was issued for fewer than 90 days are excluded from this concession and are required to depart before or on the date of expiry of the validity period of their visas.
For details, visit www.dha.gov.za. BM/DM