South Africa’s visa chaos – legal action is an option

 ·2 Jun 2023

The visa backlog at home affairs is causing serious headaches for people looking to travel or work in South Africa.

Marisa Jacobs, Managing Director of Xpatweb, said that the Department of Home Affairs’ decision to withdraw the central adjudication system has led to a major visa backlog, with the minister of home affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi, saying that the backlog stands at over 60,000.

The minister has, however, announced a new visa cession extending to 31 December 2023.

Jacobs gave details about who qualified for the new visa concession:

  • Applicants whose waiver application outcomes are still pending as of 31 March 2023 are granted a temporary extension until 31 December 2023.
  • Applicants whose visa applications (long-term visa holders) are still pending are granted a temporary extension until 31 December 2023.
  • Short-term visa holders whose visa validity was issued for less than 90 days, and who have not received an extension by 31 March 2023, must depart on or before 30 April 2023, to avoid being declared undesirable.

However, others are not covered by the concession:

  • Any pending applications at Embassies.
  • Limited cover for short-term visa holders.
  • ZEP holders, even where there is a pending application.

However, she said that the concession was ambiguous in some cases. She added that those who are covered by the concession and plan to travel outside of South Africa should bring their VFS Global receipt and concession letter to avoid any issues when they return to the country.

When it comes to those whose application is urgent or overdue, she said that they can consider legal action to speed up the process.

She added that her company was successful when it escalated its clients’ urgent applications to the High Court – if the urgency was supported by facts.

Considering the difficulty in getting long-term mainstream visas in South Africa, Marissa said that individuals and businesses should establish a well-defined strategy and roadmap to deal with their applications, as it will help them in the application process while also covering those who have already been granted an extension from any unexpected requests.

Could soon get better

Jacobs and Eden Ben-Attar from Xpatweb previously said that the work visa system in South Africa is currently the worst it has ever been.

“Other countries get certain visa categories issued at record speed and with high proficiency. The current system places foreign investors in a difficult spot, as they need to be prepared for a frustrating process and a bit of a fight to get their visa,” said Xpatweb.

The major backlog in work visa applications has made South Africa a less attractive destination to much-needed skilled workers.

Although the government tried to launch an initiative in 2022 where the head office would manage the work visa approvals instead of embassies to ensure consistency in documentation and address corruption, Xpatweb said that it appears to have failed.

“Various directives were issued in this regard and to the point where the work visa adjudication process was handed back to Embassies on new submissions. The embassies have not taken back the Head Office submissions during the directive period, so these remain with Head Office according to the certain embassies,” said Xpatweb.

However, following consistent concern over the failure of the Department of Home Affairs, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that government will overhaul the visa system.

In May, Operation Vulindlela, an initiative between the Presidency and National Treasury to drive policy implementation, published a detailed report on how to improve the visa regime.

The Department of Home Affairs has also set out an implementation plan that will ensure that the implementation plan is adopted.


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