Home Affairs faces record numb

Home Affairs faces record number of immigrant complaints

As nearly a thousand immigrants to South Africa lodge grievances against the Department of Home Affairs, it’s perhaps time to rethink SA’s immigration policy

Home Affairs faces record numb

An unprecedented number of immigrants to South Africa have filed an application at the Western Cape High Court to set the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) into motion to process long overdue residence and work permits, which have faced extreme delays due to the introduction and adoption of new immigration guidelines.

More than 900 applicants reported dissatisfaction with their processes, saying that the new immigration laws introduced overnight at the beginning of May have practically halted their applications.

Being married to South African nationals in many of these instances, the applicant have also underlined the fact that this prolonged hold-up is unconstitutionally limiting the rights of South African families to earn income and feed their families accordingly.

The Department of Home Affairs has long been known as the most underperforming government department in SA, with projected timelines for applications often exceeding their deadlines by several fold. But immigrants to the country are also getting increasingly frustrated for being treated sub-par by the department from the onset of the process – almost on the same level as ‘undesirable’ persons; this is a legal term applied to those, who have previously outstayed their visas and permits.

Often criticised for its unfortunate choice of wording, the introduction of recent immigration laws has suddenly led the number of ‘undesirables’ to skyrocket as well, tearing families apart at the point of entry to South Africa, often on account of a clerical oversight. The legal challenges to this ‘undesirable’ category of visa transgressions are gaining ground, with two recent cases brought to the Western Cape High Court being granted reprieve by a judge; however, the DHA is yet to find a way to incorporate the rulings into action.

But it is not just previous overstayers, who have to be afraid of the inefficiency at the Department of Home Affairs. First-time applicants have to bear the brunt of the blow. While waiting for permits to clear, immigrants to South Africa cannot work nor leave the country. Nor can they apply for simple private services such as opening bank accounts or applying for medical aid. In some extreme instances, this state of limbo has prevailed for years. However, in recent history reports had been confined to simple permit procedures taking typically six months or less on average.

Some applicants even live in fear of facing arrest or deportation simply because the DHA is not sticking to its own guidelines of how long it needs to take to process applications. Temporary residence permits, which are meant to be renewed within 30 days, have been known to take several months, during which some individuals have reported to have gone into hiding at a place other than their official address for fear of their de facto illegal status.

The are other procedures, in which the department is desperately failing to meet its performance targets. These include the payment of deposits which the DHA holds in cases of temporary workers, typically to the tune of over GBP 600. These are meant to be refunded after seasonal immigrants return to their home countries. But problems and serious delays have been reported in these undertakings as well.

With the outsourcing of the majority of initial immigration inquiries to a private company, VFS, things may yet improve for the beleaguered department. Looking at the issues from a distance, however, it is difficult to decipher what a developing country like South Africa is trying to ‘protect’ itself from with such draconian and inapplicable immigration laws.

By Sertan Sanderson, 2014