Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has laid out his department’s plan to tackle the massive visa backlog, saying that it should be cleared by the middle of next year.
At last reporting, the department’s backlog of visa applications waiting to be processed was sitting above 70,000, with alarm bells blaring from businesses and other sectors over the monumental damage these delays were causing the country.
South Africa is sitting with a major skills shortage, and businesses have been beside themselves trying to draw much-needed skills to the country, with efforts blocked and upended by the failures at Home Affairs.
Companies have indicated that it can take up to 48 weeks to have a visa application accepted, threatening expansion plans, investment and jobs in a country where unemployment is running at 33%.
Immigration specialists like Xpatweb have also flagged an increasing number of cases where applications are rejected for unlawful reasons, with applications then having to go through an appeal process. This results in a huge backlog of appeals at the DHA, leading to further delays.
Responding to a parliamentary Q&A this week, Motsoaledi said that the department has instituted weekly management meetings to monitor turnaround times and performance in clearing the backlog.
He said the department has developed a “backlog eradication plan” which aims to have the backlogs cleared.
“The plan aims to move the older Temporary Residency Visas applications from 2022 concurrently with the current applications of 2023. This will be done by splitting the temporary residence visa team into two,” he said.
The same approach is being implemented for Permanent Residence Permits, he said.
“The plan includes the utilisation of current capacity in the Immigration Branch supported by the additional officials from other branches, including those in provinces. It also includes those officials who have returned from the Foreign Missions after serving their four-year deployment term.”
Other options to supplement existing capacity and resources are also being looked at and may be implemented should it be deemed necessary to do so to support the eradication plan.
“The Department is also reviewing the immigration permitting delegations as well as Standard Operating Procedures,” he said.
The department wants to have cleared the backlog by June 2024 for all categories of visas.
Motsoaledi said that in certain cases visa applications are rejected because they are incomplete or missing required documentation. He said that in these cases, the department is unable to assist.
“Once an application is received at Home Affairs it is processed with the documents that were submitted by the applicant.
“The Department is therefore unable to assist applicants with incomplete documents once an application has been received at the adjudication hub.”
He said a checklist available at the time of application is one tool that assists and guides applicants to submit all required documents.