The session covered the following topics:
- Available options if you are waiting for an outcome from the Department of Home Affairs;
- The implications of the extension issued by the Department of Home Affairs on pending applications; and
- An update on Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP).
Michelle acknowledged that immigration matters can be challenging and involved, and this is why Standard Bank has partnered with Xpatweb to assist its clients to deal with such matters. The hot topic of discussion remained the ZEP system and the uncertainty on the way forward, alongside the visa concession and clarifying who indeed qualifies for it.
Visa backlog and dealing with overdue applications
In the first part of the webinar, Marisa articulated the Department of Home Affairs’ decision to withdraw the central adjudication system, leading to the current visa backlog. In his written statement announcing the new visa concession extension to 31 December 2023, the Minister of Home Affairs confirmed that this backlog was made up of 62,692 applications.
Marisa went on to discuss who qualified under the new visa concession extension, highlighting the following categories:
- 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.
She also showed attendees which categories 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.
It was acknowledged that the concession was ambiguous in some cases, and the importance of understanding whether one is covered by the concession or not was highlighted.
Marisa provided guidance on the documents which one should carry if they are covered by the concession and are travelling outside South Africa, to avoid challenges with being admitted back into the country. These documents include:
- The original VFS Global receipt; and
- The concession letter.
Following this Marisa noted that where one’s application is urgent or overdue, which was the case for 68% of webinar attendees, they may consider legal action to expedite their application. She mentioned that Xpatweb has been successful in the past when escalating clients’ urgent applications to the High Court, where the urgency of the application is supported by facts.
Impact on Zimbabwe Exemption Permit Holders
The second part of the session dealt with ZEP holders and the ongoing court case against the termination of the ZEP, where the judgement was reserved on 14 April 2023. Currently, ZEP holders have until 30 June 2023 to apply for a mainstream visa or a special application to the Minister for exemption. The ongoing court case has slowed down the approval of these applications.
On the positive side, it appears that the Department of Home Affairs has started processing special applications, with Xpatweb receiving its first approval on 3 May 2023. Whilst this is positive, Marisa did note that the future of ZEP permits remains uncertain, as it is likely that irrespective of the outcome, there will be a process to appeal the outcome.
Marisa shared a few recommendations to employers of ZEP holders on how to best manage this situation, such as validating the authenticity of ZEP permits (same is applicable for refugee and asylum permits). She further noted that Department of Labour audits are continuing and that all businesses should be geared for this by performing an internal work visa audit.
Further, she, like the Minister of Home Affairs, encouraged ZEP holders to continue applying for alternative mainstream visa categories, such as temporary residence visa including, work, study and spousal visas. Both encouraged those who do not qualify for a mainstream visa to apply for a special application, which opens the door to applying for a General Work visa.
With the continued challenges for all new applications for all long-term mainstream visas, Marisa concluded by highlighting the need for individuals and businesses to develop a well-defined strategy and roadmap to deal with ongoing and upcoming applications. A well-defined roadmap and strategy will assist in guiding applicants and businesses through this tumultuous process, and it will prepare those already covered by the concession and new applications for any seemingly unexpected requests.
With the complexities of the changing South African immigration landscape, Standard Bank and Xpatweb will be holding another session on this topic on 13 June 2023.