Immigration visa row in Vietnam

Diplomatic ties: Ambassador Mpetjane Kgaogelo Lekgoro agreed with his immigration officer’s decision, but was instructed to  overturn it.

Diplomatic ties: Ambassador Mpetjane Kgaogelo Lekgoro agreed with his immigration officer’s decision, but was instructed to  overturn it.

An immigration officer at the South African embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam, has been threatened with insubordination for refusing to overturn her decision that a Filipino national should not be given a visa to teach in this country.

That application started during the xenophobic attacks in August in South Africa, when the immigration officer — Mmatlou Machimana — received an application from a Filipino national who had landed a job at the American International School of Johannesburg.

After interviews, Machimana declined the application. In a letter, the Ambassador of South Africa in Vietnam — Mpetjane Kgaogelo Lekgoro — stated that he agreed with Machimana’s decision. But he also said that her decision had been overruled.

“However, in view of the instructions received from the department of home affairs, I requested and instructed Ms Machimana to issue the visa.
While I agreed that her decision was correct, a mandated authority had now issued an instruction,” reads the letter.

Based on numerous emails leaked to the Mail & Guardian, it seems that after Machimana made her decision — but before communicating it in writing to the department of home affairs — she was asked to rescind it. In the emails, she is asked why she has not executed the outcome of an appeal conducted by the department of home affairs.

On August 23, a regional co-ordinator for the department of home affairs, Veronica Loving, wrote to Machimana, asking why an appeal outcome conducted by the department had not been executed for the American International School.

Machimana responded, stating that she had been threatened by Sihle Dumakude, an official of the school, who called her on August 20 and “informed me that he will report me to Home Affairs officials he knows so that the appeal process can be set aside and the application can be processed”. She also pointed out that the applicant was not a Vietnamese national and did not have a long-term visa to be in Vietnam, so could not apply in that country to go to South Africa.

In another letter, to the ambassador in Vietnam, Machimana said the Filipino national was applying for a visitor’s visa, while her intention was to work in South Africa.

When the M&G sent questions to the school about the alleged threat, which were also sent to Dumakude, it said: “We are confident that our visa applications made to secure new teacher employment are compliant with the laws and regulations stipulated by home affairs and relevant visa authorities.”

It added that: “School employees may at times, if required, liaise on the phone with representatives within this process for clarification and follow-up purposes, which is standard practice.”

When contacted, Machimana refused to comment — stating that she will await the decision of her department.

But it seems she has no department to answer to.

When Clayson Monyela, the spokesperson for the department of international relations and co-operation, and David j, spokesperson for the department of home affairs, were contacted, both said Machimana was not their employee.

Meanwhile, in a letter written by ambassador Lekgoro and dated August 29, he states that he met with Machimana, who is charged with migration matters at the embassy, to clarify and confirm the situation around the issuing of a visa to the Filipino national.

“Machimana explained that she had received a visa application … and based on the relevant rules and requirements refused the application,” Lekgoro wrote.

“Machimana was contacted by an immigration agent in South Africa. The agent indicated that he would take up the matter with the responsible director in the department of home affairs. Based on the rules and requirements I considered her decision to have been sound.”

Hlabane, the spokesperson for home affairs, said the department could not answer questions about Machimana as she is not an employee of the department. These questions were also sent to Loving, who did not respond.

“Home affairs will investigate allegations against its official [Loving] in foreign office co-ordination, and any evidence in this regard will assist our internal investigation,” Hlabane said.

Neither department would provide answers as to what processes must be followed for a foreign national to be granted a visa to work in South Africa.

Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession. Read more from Athandiwe Saba

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