Good news for South Africa’s visa backlog – with a catch

 ·14 Mar 2024

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says the only remaining backlog in visa applications in South Africa is the one relating to spousal and relative visas – and the numbers have reduced significantly.

Responding to a parliamentary Q&A this past week, the minister said the backlog is now just over 40,000, which is around half of the backlog numbers reported at the end of last year.

Despite the apparent improvement, however, there are still concerns over visa turnaround times, which can still take eight months to process.

Answering questions on the backlog from the IFP, Motsoaledi noted that the department has 17 visa categories, and only two of these are currently hamstrung with a backlog.

“As of 31 January 2024, the total number of Critical Skills, Business, and General Work Visas that form part of the annual performance plan have no backlogs,” Motsoaledi said.

“However, there are delays and backlogs for only two visa categories, which are Section 11 (6) and Section 18,” he added.

He noted that these categories are spousal and relative visas, respectively, and the backlog is 41,083 (as of 31 January). The minister previously set a target of June 2024 to clear the backlog, but this was pushed back to November 2024.

He also said the reason for the remaining backlog is the lack of sufficient capacity, such as immigration officers who have to be tasked with investigating the authenticity of such relationships.

“The department experiences challenges regarding the legitimacy of relationships being claimed or cited in the application.

“It must be noted that some foreign nationals take advantage and follow corrupt methods to legitimise themselves, family members, friends, and others,” Motsoaledi said.

This revelation starkly contrasts the figures reported at the end of last year when the minister noted in a separate parliamentary Q&A that the backlog in visas remained at over 74,309 – unchanged from the department’s previous report at the end of October 2023.

This is good news for visas in South Africa, considering the country has long been facing a significant skills shortage, and businesses have been struggling to attract much-needed skills to the country, with their efforts having been hindered by the failures at Home Affairs.

However, the one caveat that remains is visa turnaround times, which the minister said still sits at around eight months.

Companies have reported that visa applications can take up to 48 weeks to be accepted, which poses a threat to expansion plans, investment, and job creation in a country with a 33% unemployment rate.

Immigration lawyer Gary Eisenberg said in December that these waiting times are very much still an issue.

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.”

Read: Call to stop name changes for towns in South Africa

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