No end in sight for South Africa’s massive visa backlog: report

 ·7 Jan 2024

A leaked memo seen by the Sunday Times from the state attorney’s office to the Department of Home Affairs has raised questions about the latter’s growing visa backlog, which is reportedly now sitting at over 95,000 applications.

According to the paper, the state attorney’s office has warned of massive fallout from the backlog, including the thwarting of immigration processes, national security risks from the DHA trying to rush through applications, and an overall impediment to economic growth from skills being blocked from entering the country.

More worrying is the view that the problem does not appear to be getting any better.

In December, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi noted in a recent parliamentary Q&A that the backlog in temporary residency visas remained at over 74,309 – unchanged from the department’s last report at the end of October 2023 – adding that an additional backlog of 43,944 in permanent residency permits also remains.

The memo in question was dated 1 November, the Sunday Times said, which means that the December backlog was already well over 100,000 when combined.

Immigration lawyer Gary Eisenberg said in December that the backlog crisis is probably much worse and that the numbers provided by the department are somewhat misleading, as they likely do not include applications that have been appealed or are under review.

“It’s unclear whether the numbers given by the department include application appeals and those under review, and that number is likely far higher than the 74,000,” said Eisenberg.

“Even if some foreigners with the means are able to get a court order to force the minister to make a decision on their applications, many of those orders are being ignored,” he noted.

Eisenberg added that skilled foreign professionals – who are needed to fill the gaps on the critical skills list – are simply walking away. “They cannot wait a year for a visa or spousal visa, so they are going elsewhere.”

Like the state attorney’s office, experts have cast doubt on the department’s ability to clear the backlog.

In a parliamentary Q&A near the end of November, Motsoaledi noted that the time frame to fix the backlog has been pushed back from June 2024 to November 2024.

This has increased the time frame the department expects to address the massive backlog in critical visas by almost half a year.

In response to the department’s plans to clear the backlog, Motsoaledi said it remains the same as previously reported – outlined in the “backlog eradication plan”.

“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 at the time.

The same approach is being implemented for Permanent Residence Permits, he added.

“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.

Read: South Africa’s massive visa backlog is likely much, much worse

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