Dear Clients, Partners and Friends,

May you and yours be safe and well in this third Covid wave, which has hit South Africa as expected, with the Gauteng province being particularly hard hit at the moment. With lockdown level 4 being reinstated and the vaccine rollout having gained momentum, hopes are for an imminent and short peak and a quick recovery. Arrivals to South Africa through the major airports are not restricted, and visitors, investors, business people and returning residents continue to only need to present a negative Covid test not older than 72 hours on arrival. Please stay cautious and safe in these trying times. Our thoughts go out to those who have lost loved ones and who are struggling.

On the immigration front, we have news on the automatic extension of visa validity and on the Home Affairs services that are open (or not) at this point and in the near future. We update you on the challenges with excessive processing times and appalling decision-making (yes, again), call out the Minister’s bluff on poor IT systems and answer some common questions about the critical skills list.

As always, our team will be delighted to answer any questions you may have and will gladly support you, your staff or others in your network in securing the required documents to stay and be active in South Africa.

With warm regards,
Julia Willand

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Automatic Visa and Permit Extension: Extended Again

To the relief of many who are still in the country with visas or asylum seeker permits that expired during the lockdown (since 15 March 2020), these have once more been automatically extended to 30 September. Their holders can leave the country by that date without being penalised for not holding a valid visa by being declared illegal, undesirable or having to be legalized first. As before, this exemption excludes visas issued on or after 15 March 2021, so if you received an extension of your visitor’s visa or arrived in the country after 15 March, you will not fall under this exemption. Holders of asylum seeker permits or refugee status that have expired since 15 March 2020 are similarly exempted and can remain in the country, apply for extensions (electronic services are up and running) or for waivers to change their status to a temporary visa, by 30 September 2021.

Thankfully, the rules for those holding long-term visas (valid for more than 90 days) that have expired since 15 March 2020 or are about to expire, have been clarified. The exemption applies equally to them, and thus they may apply for an extension or change of their status by 30 September 2021 OR leave the country penalty-free.

Any questions? Need to extend your long-term visa? We are happy to help as always.

Home Affairs services (to re-) open during current lockdown rules

Just as preparations were under way for taking the Minister to court for blocking applications for permanent residence, for confirmation of permanent residence status and appeals of rejected permanent residence applications, a timeline for opening these services has been put in law: appeals and applications for confirmation of permanent residence status will be opened on 1 October 2021, and applications for permanent residence can be made from 1 January 2022. In spite of this staggered approach, we expect a chaotic run on missions abroad and VFS offices locally come 1 January 2022, with applications having piled up over 21 months.

These days, it is wise to double-check a few times before going into Home Affairs for any services you may need. When it comes to civic services such a birth, death and marriage certificates, ID documents and passports, the rules change almost on a weekly basis, and are differently applied between Home Affairs offices. The latest Regulations, issued on 30 June 2021, spell out the services that Home Affairs are supposed to be offering, which includes birth registrations, temporary ID and first-time ID documents, marriages, passports for those travelling to take up work, studies or to attend funerals, and unabridged birth certificates for first-time ID or other document purposes. Individual offices have indicated that this list has already been overridden by internal directive. As I said – it is wise to double-check with the office in question before attempting to apply or collect.

Whilst citizenship services have been largely closed since March 2020, applications for renunciation or retention of citizenship are now to be allowed and processed, presumably also due to political pressure received.

If you have been frustrated in the past for being sent home after hours of queuing for your Home Affairs service because “the system is down”, it may give you some satisfaction to learn that the Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi, has been exposed for unduly shifting the blame for his Department’s shoddy IT systems. Whilst he claimed that other state departments were providing poor infrastructure and service, it turns out that Home Affairs has purchased the very cheapest and hopelessly inadequate package for the volumes of services it is mandated to deliver. May this embarrassment lead to the quick(ish) fix that it can be.

Looking to apply for permanent residence? Get in touch with us now to be prepared for 1 January and be amongst the first applications to be processed after the anticipated clearing of the backlogs.

New Critical Skills List – The quiet after the storm

Against wide-spread perceptions, the critical skills list published earlier this year was a DRAFT only and is not in force and effect. Criticised for being too rigid, restrictive and reactive, and not meeting the needs of the economy, and omitting some key categories from the current list, the draft was meant to be cut down significantly before being implemented.

After the draft was published in a hurry to meet a political commitment, there has been a glaring silence and no further feedback on comments received from stakeholders and the public, or a timeline as to when to expect next steps.

For the moment, it is wise not to bank on the new list, or any particular category included or retained in the draft, becoming effective any time soon. If your skills are on the existing list, apply for your visa and prepare your permanent residence application now for submission in January. Ask us for advice on the optimal strategy for your or your employee’s individual case.

Visa and Permit Services Slow and Poor

The processing times for local visa applications have come to a record high with applications pending since as early as October 2020. If an average processing time can be named, it would be at 10 weeks plus as opposed to the “usual” 4-6 weeks.

Surprisingly, appeals of rejected applications have been coming out comparatively fast (within weeks rather than many months or even years), a situation that one can only hope to continue.

Although no new permanent residence applications have been accepted for over 15 months, and although a formal backlog project was put in place months ago and apparently started working on 1 June, there has been minimal movement on results coming out of that section. The aim seems to be to completely clear the backlog of about 40 000 files before the section opens up for new applications again in January, but we are not holding our breath. With the Minister’s insanely ambitious counter-corruption project that sought to review ALL visas and permits issued since 2004, a report for which he is busy reviewing, it is no wonder that things have been moving slowly over the last while. Those of our clients who participated in the court matter that seeks to force Home Affairs to adjudicate their long-outstanding applications, are hopeful to receive their results before the rest as the matter remained unopposed by Home Affairs, and indications were given that a swift resolution was being sought.

Unfortunately, the quality of adjudication remains appallingly poor, with erroneous – and very often plain ridiculous - rejections being received across the industry. Sadly, we receive reports that some of them are upheld in the appeal stage and have to be escalated to the Minister. Fortunately, IMCOSA’s track record of successful appeals is far above industry average and we have been able to achieve positive (albeit sometimes delayed) outcomes for most our clients.

Projects like Operation Vulindlela bear a ray of hope that some critical scrutiny by the Presidency will at last see these kinds of challenges being addressed effectively, but their impact (if any) will have to be awaited.