Dear Clients, Partners and Friends,

Today’s news on visa and immigration matters is written in a substantially more hopeful mood than the last. Whilst many challenges persist, there have been positive moves from the Minister and Department of Home Affairs, some of which have brought great relief to many of our clients. Whilst local processing times are still excessive, the centralised adjudication of overseas applications has thankfully been reversed with effect from 1 September 2022, and processing times have returned to normal (more on this below). Several engagements with senior officials of Home Affairs have provided opportunity to raise the challenges that we see around the increasingly restrictive work visa situation. We are hopeful that, with time, these kinds of exchanges will filter through and convert into sensible policy changes.

Today’s update includes the latest news on the following:

• Centralisation of overseas applications REVERSED
• Validity of ZEP permits extended until 30 June 2023
• ID applications for some no longer possible everywhere
• Travelling while waiting for a visa extension or change within South Africa
• Status of backlogs and processing times
• Protect your business: verify your non-South African staff’s documents
• Don’t let your Permanent Residence lapse: How to ensure that you meet your permit conditions

For details, please scroll down.

As always, thank you for your interest. We would love to hear from you with feedback, questions, or anything else we can assist with.

Yours sincerely,
Julia Willand

Centralisation of overseas visa applications REVERSED

Historically, visa applications submitted to South Africa’s many foreign Embassies and Consulates around the world were processed and adjudicated locally by those missions’ officials. Processing times and application of the immigration laws differed between missions, sometimes significantly. But many missions were functional and relatively predictable in both timing and content of their decisions, with most completing applications within 1-3 months. This process was changed early in 2022 when all visa applications handed in abroad were sent to Pretoria for decision-making. As was to be expected, this caused a massive backlog and utter chaos with applicants waiting 8 months and longer for outcomes, as reported in our last newsletter.

Thankfully, the enormous pressure from companies not getting their senior leaderships into the country, international schools and universities not able to replace their teachers and lecturers in time, investors unable to attend to their businesses, amongst others, were finally heard. With effect from 1 September, the centralisation was reversed and Embassies and Consulates were again allowed to process their applications directly.

Whilst this brought great relief to those who applied from 1 September onwards, it still left those in the lurch who had made their applications prior to that date. In the 9 weeks following the decision, Pretoria was still not able to put a dent in the extraordinary backlog that had built op over 8 months.

It was therefore with great relief that a decision from 31 October 2022 was received, in terms of which the Embassies and Consulates were authorised to also decide over the “older” applications, after all. The massive disruption and strain on officials that these erratic and ill-prepared decisions have caused, will likely still be felt for a while.

What we may expect now is a) results for applications made abroad before 1 September will slowly start coming through, and b) applications made since 1 September will experience some delays (although not as badly as during the centralisation). One can hope that processes will normalise within the coming few months.

For individual advice on what to expect for your application, speak to our team.

ZEP permits extended until 30 June 2023: Visa options

After 13 years of various exemptions for Zimbabwean nationals living in South Africa, the South African Cabinet discontinued this special dispensation. All Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP, as they were most recently called) subsequently expired on 31 December 2021. Holders of ZEP permits were given a 12-month grace period in which they may apply for any of the ordinary visas from within South Africa. If they did not qualify or otherwise failed to secure a visa, they had to leave the country by 31 December 2022.

Due to the many court challenges made against the discontinuation of the ZEP scheme, and the low number of visa applications received by ZEP holders, the grace period was extended until 30 June 2023. ZEP holders can continue to exit and re-enter South Africa, work or follow other activities until mid-2023. This means that employers may continue to employ Zimbabwean staff members who hold ZEP permits until that date.

Contact us for individual, case-by-case assessments regarding alternative visa options beyond June 2023. Employers who want to retain their Zimbabwean staff members can consider sponsoring them to study further or attend courses and thereby be allowed to continue working part-time for the duration of that course. ZEP holders with own businesses have a reasonable chance of receiving business visas if they have local employees and can show that their businesses are viable.

ID applications for some no longer possible at modernised offices

With effect from 12 October 2022, permanent residents and naturalised citizens who do not qualify for the new Smart ID card, can no longer make their applications for the “old” green ID book at their nearest Home Affairs office, but have to travel to one of the “legacy (non/modernised)” offices to do so. The decision was ostensibly taken to speed up the issuing of Smart ID cards for citizens by birth or descent (elections are coming up, after all), but prejudices those who may have to travel far distances to receive a service that they are entitled to and also require in order to fully participate in society. Our team will continue to assist as much as we can under the circumstances.

Visa applications within South Africa: Exemption extended again

Due to a number of factors, applications made in South Africa are currently taking extraordinarily long to be finalized (regularly 8-12 months and sometimes longer). In recognition of this, the Minister allowed those who (entered the country legally and) applied for waivers or for temporary residence visas to continue their activities as per their last visas, OR leave the country without being declared undesirable. Those awaiting long-term visas can return as visitors to collect their outcomes. As per the latest decision, this exemption was extended until 31 March 2023.

The exemption includes tourists who apply for extensions of their 90-day visas and do not receive a result prior to their departure. They will have no trouble returning home within the 180 days from entry even without the visa extension in their passports, as long as they leave by end of March 2023. Further extensions of this exemption are well possible, but will be announced closer to the time.

Status of backlogs and processing times

In the ever-changing immigration environment, rules and processes are difficult to keep track of. Herewith a very rough overview of processing times and backlogs. It is advisable to have these confirmed individually, as different circumstances may influence them.

Permanent Residence: 3-5 years and longer.
Temporary visa applications (except visitors and critical skills): 8-12 months
Visa applications abroad: recently very fast (less than one month), but with the latest changes (see above) delays are expected.
Appeals: Some within 2 months.
Citizenship: certain processes within 4-6 months.

To address the permanent residence backlog, apparently a dedicated project was started with officials working overtime in offices around the country. However, as previously reported, adjudicators are hesitant to take decisions, especially positive ones.

Protect your business: verify your staff’s residence and work documents

Do you employ non-South African staff? Even if you have reviewed and filed their visas or permits and they seem in order, this may not be the case. For a variety of reasons, large numbers of fraudulent or fraudulently obtained immigration papers are in use in South Africa. The Departments of Home Affairs and Labour have started inspecting businesses for their immigration compliance, arresting un- or insufficiently documented persons found working on business premises, and issuing heavy fines to employers. These efforts at protecting the labour market from illegal practices are said to be intensified in the coming months.

To protect your staff and your business from these complications, have your employees’ visas’ and permits’ authenticity and validity verified. After an audit, get advice on available visa and permit options if applicable.

Don’t let your Permanent Residence lapse: How to ensure that you meet your permit conditions

Already a permanent resident? Depending on the category that you received your permanent residence in, there may be conditions attached to your permit. The conditions are usually printed at the bottom part of your certificate. Please find some of the typical conditions below:

• Spousal relationship with a South African permanent resident/citizen [s26(b)]: confirmation of continued relationship to be submitted within 2 years of the permit being issued.
• Minor child of a South African permanent resident/citizen [s26(c)]: confirmation of permanent residence in respect of the child to be submitted within 2 years of the child turning 18 years of age.
• Establishing and operating a business in South Africa [s27(c)]: confirmation of the initial investment to be submitted within 2 years of the permit being issued, and again 3 years thereafter.

For advice and assistance with meeting your conditions, please contact us.