‘Fake marriages’ holding up massive visa backlog in South Africa

 ·27 Feb 2024

The Minister of Home Affairs has noted fake marriages are on the rise in South Africa, adding to the challenges faced by the department as it tries to clear up a major backlog in visa applications.

This was revealed in a parliamentary Q&A session, in which the Minister of Home Affairs commented on his department’s current backlog of processing applications for temporary residence visas.

A leaked memo seen by the Sunday Times from the state attorney’s office to the Department of Home Affairs revealed the backlog was now sitting at over 95,000 applications.

Of these 95,000, the backlog in temporary residency visas has remained unchanged at over 74,309 since the department’s last report at the end of October 2023.

This pressured the minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, to extend the time frame to fix the backlog, which has been pushed back from June 2024 to November 2024.

However, in his latest response, Motsoaledi said the department is not deliberately delaying the processing of such visas.

Although there are several reasons for the backlog, Motsoaledi noted that approximately 86% of the temporary residence visa backlog consists of “relationship visas”, and a concerning amount of them are fraudulent.

“The department is experiencing significant and ever-increasing challenges with regards to the legitimacy of relationships being claimed or cited as a reason for applying for these visas,” he said.

“Some foreign nationals have taken advantage and get into corruption to legitimise themselves, family members, friends and others.

“The number of fraudulent marriages, marriages of convenience and a special category of cohabitation are unfortunately on the increase,” he added.

The minister explained that marriages of convenience are the largest category.

This is when the couple agrees to get legitimately married, where one person (usually a foreign man) pays money to the other (usually a South African woman) in return for getting documents to sojourn in South Africa via marriage.

The category of cohabitation is even more problematic and easily attracts corruption because all that two people claiming to be staying with each other need to produce is a contract written by the notary public (notarial contract), added Motsoaledi.

Nothing in the law forbids two people to legitimise their relationship through a notarial contract.

The problem is that some of the contracts presented to the department look very suspicious and warrant a thorough investigation when such applications are processed.

More worryingly, the minister said that spousal visa applications based on notarial contracts are increasing.

It is common cause that the department does not have enough Immigration officers who have to be tasked with investigating the authenticity of relationships.

“Yet, without knowing whether relationships are authentic, the department will find itself issuing visas to people who do not deserve to be in the country,” he said.

From January 2023 to November 2023, 1,614 fraudulent marriages were encountered, and 1,102 have been expunged. The remainder are still under further investigation.

Read: Plans to grab retirement savings to fund government projects in South Africa

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