Immigration regulations tightened

2014-06-08 15:00

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New regulations include being declared ‘undesirable’, Dewald van Rensburg reports

South Africa’s new immigration regulations are drawing criticism even though key features of the new regime are still under construction.

The department of trade and industry (the dti) has gained new powers to vet applicants for business and corporate visas, while the new outsourced application system is only halfway established.

New regulations (replacing those from 2005) as well as two pending amendments to the main Immigration Act came into effect last week.

The implementation was very rapid, being gazetted on May 22, effective on May 26, and has caught people off guard. Much of the public criticism has come from immigration ­practitioners – middlemen who handle visa applications for foreign clients.

The major problems being raised include the new punishment of being declared “undesirable” if you overstay a visa.

This in effect bans people from South Africa for anything between a year and five years, where before the punishment was a small fine that wasn’t strictly enforced anyway, according to Robbie Ragless, an immigration practitioner in Cape Town.

Ragless’ agency, New World Immigration SA, already has a UK client that has been banned from South Africa.

The main problem with the new penalty is that people often end up overstaying visas because the backlogs at home affairs delay their renewals.

Newly appointed Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba last Friday indicated the department was now “considering a ­policy framework to deal with economic migrants”, meaning “people without skills who are plain economic migrants”.

The immigration system largely tries to restrict the employment of foreigners in the country to those with “critical skills”.

Even after the new amendments and regulations, the ­country’s immigration policy doesn’t cater for the unskilled at all, despite the inevitability of migrancy to the region’s most advanced economy.

According to Gigaba, this leaves them “with no other avenue” than to illegitimately claim asylum. There needs to be some balance between job reservation for South Africans and migrants who do not have “critical” skills, he said.

The major change to the rules around foreign employment is a requirement that a foreigner’s business must employ at least 60% South Africans to get a business or corporate visa.

Business visas are for investors setting up businesses while corporate visas are for companies that intend to hire a number of foreign workers.

Gigaba pointed to construction and farming as industries where the 60% rule would help alleviate the unemployment of South Africans.

Other new rules around business visas are still a work in progress, but will give the dti a key role in vetting applicants.

The department will have to recommend a list of “undesirable” businesses for which business visas will be

refused. Asked about this last Friday, Gigaba used brothels as an example.

Before a business visa gets issued, the dti will also advise on a new minimum level of investable resources.

It used to be R2.5?million. The dti then also has to judge your business plan to be feasible and “in the national interest”.

Business permits, which are now called business visas, are issued to relatively small amounts of people.

In 2012, the latest year for which Stats SA has published figures, 1?585 were granted.

The main countries from which immigrants got business permits were Pakistan, Ethiopia, China and Nigeria – together accounting for 52.7% of that year’s permits.

According to Dr Roni Amit from Wits University’s Africa Centre for Migration & Society, the regulations “do little to affect the situation of lower-skilled migrants”.

He added: “If anything, they have made overall entry more difficult, for both highly and lower-skilled migrants.”

The extra pressure now being put on asylum applicants is “one of the most significant changes”, Amit told City Press.

The time allowed between crossing the border and lodging an application at a refugee reception office has been reduced from 14 to five days.

South Africa has been closing these offices and currently has only three in operation.

“There is also no guarantee that they will get into an existing office when they arrive because of long queues, increasing the risk of arrest and deportation,” said Amit.

According to the department of home affairs’ annual report for the 2012/13 financial year, there were 78?142 applications for asylum transit visas in the year.

Only a small minority of those eventually translated into refugee status.

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