Visa admin nightmare: SA family torn apart after wife banned despite following the rules

Cape Town – South African traveller David Vollenhoven has had a nightmare of a vacation.

What he and his family had hoped would be a memorable vacation to his parents-in-law in New Zealand, has turned into an agonising, admin-intensive labyrinth from which they were only freed after their planned holiday was over.

David Vollenhoven contacted Traveller24 on 29 December, 2015 in a desperate bid for help after his wife Kelly – a foreign national from New Zealand – was declared an undesirable person to travel at OR Tambo International because her visa had expired on 31 July, despite the Vollenhoven's having tried to renew and follow procedure for the past six months.

Kelly Vollenhoven was subsequently banned from entering South Africa for a period of one year. The couple have been living in SA since 2013 and have an almost-three-year-old daughter and an  eight-month-old son. 

"It was ridiculous," Vollenhoven says, "as we did everything per VFS and DHA requirements and they still dropped the ball on this one". 

READ: Visa issue real, says UK family after R390k holiday spoiled

Kelly Vollenhoven's visa was to expire on 31 October 2015, and in accordance with SA's immigration policy requirements she made her renewal application well within the stipulated 60-day renewal period. 

“My wife was on a relative’s visa which she reapplied for on 31 July 2015. It was advised by Visa Facilitation Services (VFS) that the time frame to process the application would be between eight to 10 weeks.”

VFS Global was appointed as the visa and permit facilitators for the department of home affairs in May 2014 and has been previously been hit by backlogs in the run-up to the busy festive season.

Despite the Vollenhoven's stating that they had upcoming travel plans, their visa request wasn’t processed or expedited as has been the case previously with backlogs in which receipts with official letters have been issued confirming the renewal process was underway.

Vollenhoven told Traveller24 "no receipt was provided" when he went to the DHA on 10 December. A DHA official had ensured them that "confirmation would be sent via email, saying Kelly would be flagged on the system," but this didn't happen.

"No one was prepared to give us a letter, and everyone advised we have to appeal from overseas as that was due process".

Traveller24 has contacted the Department of Home Affairs since receiving the Vollenhoven's request on 29 December 2015, but has yet to receive any response. 

Kelly Vollenhoven was eventually allowed out of the country with her husband and two children on 11 December 2015 but was told she would not be allowed back into SA, where the couple and their children are currently living. 

Here is a timeline of the Vollenhoven family's ordeal:

31 July 2015: The Vollenhovens apply for the renewal of Kelly Vollenhoven’s visa.

12 October: 12 weeks after application – no news from the DHA or VFS, despite numerous calls and visits.

31 October: Kelly Vollenhoven's visa expires, three months after re-applying for the document. 

25 November: David Vollenhoven contacts parliament, and is advised they have written to the Director of Immigration who gave assurance he would do all that he could to assist in the matter.

1 December:  David Vollenhoven appoints a firm of immigration lawyers to assist with the follow-up of the visa application. They confirmed the visa was approved and printed but never dispatched to the VFS.

8 December: David Vollenhoven receives a response from the DHA (for an email sent on 25 November) saying the matter would be attended to and resolved within 4 working days.

10 December: David Vollenhoven goes to the DHA office in Cape Town where an official tells him the visa could be re-printed and dispatched to a VFS office in Johannesburg by mid-day on 11 December.

11 December: Despite the DHA saying Vollenhoven’s wife would be allowed to pass through the immigration system at OR Tambo, no systems are flagged for her passing through. Kelly Vollenhoven is declared an undesirable person and banned from entering South Africa for a period of one year.

From 11 December 2015 to 3 January 2016: In New Zealand, the Vollenhovens attempt to call the SA immigration office at the airport. OR Tambo International phone number says ‘not in service’ and the phone number at Cape Town International goes unanswered.  

3 January 2016: The whole Vollenhoven family is due to fly back to SA, but David returns alone – only to step into another admin labyrinth of trying to get his family back into SA.

4 January: David Vollenhoven goes to the VFS office in South Africa, only to be informed that they cannot disclose his wife’s visa status, as they need to original document to do so. He starts making plans to courier the passport to SA and back to New Zealand again.

'Complete lack of accountability'

It was only in the first week of January that Vollenhoven’s lawyers informed him that the undesirability status for his wife Kelly has been waived and she is now allowed to re-enter the country.

Vollenhoven has since received a waiver letter from the DHA, date-stamped 30 December 2015.  

“All this additional hassle could have been avoided if the numbers were answered and we could have all flown out (back to South Africa) together,” Vollenhoven told Traveller24 after the whole ordeal.

“We acted in good faith at all times. There is a complete lack of accountability both within the DHA and VFS and no support for South African citizens.”

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