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.
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.
On Thursday, new Home Affairs Minister 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”.