Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana was spot-on with his assessment –
“We are clearing the backlog in work visa applications and are implementing the recommendations of the skilled immigration review.”
Cabinet Ministers generally stick to their own turf, being on the same team. When they publicly comment on another, it is generally positive or showing that they work together. There must have been a very good reason for the Budget Speech, being the most watched annual event of South Africa, to comment on Home Affairs troubles.
Why is this so Important?
The South Africa work visa system is currently in the worst shape it has been, and this is an Eskom complex problem to resolve. Foreign nationals are mostly not getting their work visas correctly issued and in timely and correct manner. This is not good for South Africa, as it makes the country less investor friendly. 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. Whilst certain sections of Home Affairs and Embassies are world-class, this is more due to the quality of the individual official involved, as opposed to the system.
What has the Minister of Home Affairs been doing?
He has been doing a good job, but he is up against heavy odds. The courageous decision was made by the Minister early in 2022 to implement centralized adjudication, meaning the work visa approvals were taken away from Embassies and taken over by Head Office. This decision was explained to be for two reasons, those being (a) to ensure that there is consistency in the documentation which Embassies require as well as to address various inconsistencies in Embassies throughout the immigration process, and (b) to address the matter of corruption at various levels.
We can attest that this decision was underpinned by valid reasoning.
However, the upshot hereof has not been good for the Minister, the Department of Home Affairs and most importantly international employers. It appears from the very limited number of visas which were processed, that the initiative 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. However, Head Office confirms that Embassies may proceed to adjudicate on these matters where they have not had feedback from Head Office on an outcome. This misalignment continues to delay the backlog on these applications.
The Head Office has informally communicated some deadlines to clear their backlog, but this process is slow. Meanwhile, new applications at Embassies have the same challenges as before and Embassy service has declined. There remains a couple of excellent countries where the Embassy staff are outstanding. However, the practical outcome is that there has been a marked deterioration compared to times prior to the Ministerial centralisation intervention.
Is there hope for Home Affairs?
The main problem is new submissions being done, whilst older submissions are not getting closed. Where a system is under pressure, you are dealing with officials who must put out fires, and they are under constant pressure. Unfortunately, we have also seen that this pressure has resulted in various unwanted behaviours coming through such as rejections for not good reasons and request for information which are outside the law; which appears obvious “buying time” tactics.
We do not believe the system will get better anytime soon and due to the sheer quantity of the historical backlog.
Our recommendation to clients is to have a very clear Home Affairs submission strategy and that there is a clear roadmap or project plan for each submission. In the current environment, each application must be commenced as soon as possible, the steps must be proactively planned, and the standard of submission must be at a level, addressing the nuances of each category permit and Embassy specific requirements.