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DA: SA's new immigration regulations need a rethink

Sapa, Lynley Donnelley

The Democratic Alliance has called for the newly introduced regulations to be reviewed and debated by Parliament's home affairs portfolio committee.

Government's newly introduced immigration regulations need a rethink, the Democratic Alliance said. (Reuters)

Government’s newly introduced immigration regulations need a rethink, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said on Monday.

“Media reports and public outcry suggest that in less than a month the new regulations have already ripped apart families, dissuaded investors, and led to the suspension and even cancellation of multimillion-rand film and tourism ventures,” DA MP Haniff Hoosen said in a statement. He called for the regulations to be reviewed and debated by Parliament’s home affairs portfolio committee. 

“[Home Affairs] Minister Malusi Gigaba’s assertion that the ... recently gazetted immigration regulations are in the best interest of South Africa’s security is an insufficient excuse for inefficient policy.” 

Omissions and lack of definitions and criteria raised serious concerns about the new regulations, which would be subject to “misappropriation and abuse” by the department of home affairs and its officials. “Furthermore, the full cost of these regulations to our local economy and the country’s reputation remain to be seen” he said.

Questioned by experts
Meanwhile, the ability of the home affairs department to implement tough new immigration regulations has been questioned by experts.

They say that the new regulations could also affect businesses looking for workers with skills they cannot find locally and could frustrate highly skilled foreigners seeking to live and work here lawfully.

“It’s going to be longer processing times; it’s going to be a lot more documentation. The process is going to be very cumbersome and it is almost certainly going to detract from foreign investors wanting to invest, start businesses and work with South African businessmen,” said Robbie Ragless, managing director of New World Immigration South Africa. The new regulations, aimed at overhauling the country’s visa system, came into effect on May 26 and have sparked controversy.

For example, British national Olivia Lock, who is married to a South African, was banned in May for 12 months for leaving South Africa while on an expired visa. She had been waiting for the outcome of her visa renewal application.

Previously, according to Ragless, foreign nationals waiting for a decision on their visa renewal – which can take months and often results in the expiry of existing documentation – could travel using a receipt from home affairs indicating their application was pending.

‘Undesirable’ and banned
This is no longer the case and anyone travelling on an expired permit could be declared “undesirable” and banned from returning to the country for up to five years.

According to Niki Gerneke of Shepstone & Wylie’s commercial law department, under the new regulations applicants for general work visas will be required to obtain certification from the department of labour, stating among other things that their salary and benefits are commensurate with those paid to South African citizens in similar positions.

The labour department would also have to take steps to confirm that the employer is registered with the Commission on Intellectual Property and Companies. How long this will take to process “remains to be seen”.

Gerneke said the legislation and regulations are understandably trying to protect South Africans, and to ensure that foreigners are lawfully living and working in the country.

But the increased bureaucracy was frustrating for foreigners in South Africa and local companies seeking to employ foreigners with urgently needed skills, she said. 

Ragless said that, although many other countries have equally tough visa requirements, they have proper systems in place to implement regulations and process applications without undue delay.

The department said in response to questions that the new requirements had been introduced in the interests of security, to tackle fraud and abuse and to introduce web-based applications. The system had worked well with other departments in finalising notices accompanying the regulations, it said.

Last week Thursday, Malusi Gigaba announced the launch of new visa facilitation centres, which will outsource the receipt and management of visa and permit applications to the private firm VFS Global in a bid to “cut long queues and reduce turnaround times to adjudicate visas”. – Sapa, Lynley Donnelly

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