28-05-2024 08:25:50 (GMT +02:00) Pretoria / Cape Town, South Africa

SA keeps the brakes on foreign visa applications
16. Sep. 2022 Business Day

Billions in foreign investment are at risk as processes in home affairs remain stalled
While long overdue, the current efforts to tackle corruption and shortcomings in the department of home affairs are welcome. But as the cleanup is carried out processes within the department remain stalled, affecting thousands of people and putting foreign investment at risk, among other negative fallout.
Former director-general of home affairs Mavuso Msimang has been deployed to help deal with issues and review processes in the department, a mammoth task. This is expected to be backed soon by a multidisciplinary team to investigate anomalies in issuing permits and visas issued since 2014.
People around the world who have suffered the effects of delays and irregularities now have the hope of resolution of their applications and appeals ` eventually. But with years in backlogs and a limited staff in place to work through them, lives continue to be disrupted by these delays and foreign investment remains in jeopardy.
In our experience, civic services are working smoothly, with SA passport applications being processed within two to four weeks, but few if any temporary residence and permanent residence visa and/or applications for foreigners. To want to “clean house” and put the right people in place imply that home affairs issues are being taken seriously, but at the same time the department continues to make it virtually impossible for foreigners to invest, work, live and study in SA.
Scores of investors and wealthy applicants who are ready and able to pay the R120,000 net worth fee for SA permanent residence permits are being ignored and rejected for no valid reason. Wealthy foreigners wanting to retire and spend their fortunes in SA are being turned away. As we have noted previously, adjudication needs to be done consistently, fairly, and in line with the relevant laws.
Behind the delays
With applicants waiting up to three years for adjudication, patience has worn thin. The suspension of most services during the pandemic stalled the applications of thousands of people. Since March 2021 temporary residence visa applications regardless of categories could take 10 to 12 months to process, and while it seems that the department is dealing with the backlogs, they are so significant that many temporary residence visa applications remain pending a year later.
A blanket waiver issued in December last year and a number of times since then may have been intended to handle the problem, but it doesn’t solve the challenge faced by people from visa-restricted countries such as India, Iran or Lithuania. While these people may use the waiver to leave SA without being banned, once they are in their countries of origin they cannot return without a visa. And these can take longer than a year to obtain.
Anyone applying for a visa at a foreign mission faces inconsistent treatment and lengthy delays ` even a 90-day visa, which used to take five days, now takes up to nine


months to issue. The personnel posted at foreign SA missions are not well trained, nor particularly friendly to foreigners, and are not particularly efficient in their relations with management at the department’s head office in Pretoria. Often one finds glaring gaps of information and knowledge between foreign missions and the department’s head office, giving rise to all kinds of anomalies, substantive mistakes and delays as a consequence.
The centralisation of adjudication of long-term visa applications, now reversed following a flurry of complaints, worsened the delays. Centralising adjudication to Pretoria at the beginning of the year meant further frustration and delays for foreign applicants, some of whom have been waiting for up to three years for visas and/or permits based on skills, net worth or retirement.
In addition, about 250,000 Zimbabweans working in SA ` and their employers ` face an uncertain future over contradictory statements around Zimbabwe exit permits. The Helen Suzman Foundation recently noted that the director-general’s position demonstrated there was no genuine intention to give individual exemptions.
Meanwhile, foreign businesspeople have warned that they could reassess or move their investments in SA to other African countries where it is easier to do business. One multimillionaire in Germany who applied for permanent residence in 2016 based on net worth recently had his application rejected on grounds related to an entirely different applicant. Inconsistent and flawed outcomes continue to result in appeals and court cases ` in our practice we have close to 30 high court cases in 2022 alone.
In an interview recently French Trade Advisors in SA chair Jean Claude Lasserre noted that despite promises by the authorities to support international investments in SA, delays issuing working visas were preventing skilled international managers, engineers and other employees from running French investments in SA. He said more than 300 French companies, employing more than 65,000 direct employees, were already present in the country, and French businesses had committed to invest a further R50bn in SA during a recent investment conference.
Lasserre has urged action on new intracompany and critical skills work visas for international staff, their families and all professors of the French School, and the renewal of working visas for existing top managers and experts driving French companies in SA.
The old saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same” appears to apply here. While efforts are clearly being made to clean up home affairs, in practice the department’s processes remain fraught with the same delays and inconsistencies people have complained about for years
www.samigration.com V.4450

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