Tag Archive | home affairs

Home Affairs gives reasons for visa changes

Security paramount….

south_africa_home_affairsDuring a briefing to Parliament on the revised Immigration Act, the department of home affairs (DHA) said the new regulations calling for visitors applying for permits, visas and immigration applications to do this in their own country before leaving for South Africa was a necessary change in procedure in order to protect the interests of this country.

DHA reported that while it was committed to facilitating the entry and exit of legitimate travellers in an efficient and humane way, it had be remembered that the department had a constitutional mandate to defend the country’s sovereignty, security and public safety.

All immigration decisions were therefore based on an assessment of risk and South Africa faced a multitude of risks ranging from international criminal syndicates smuggling drugs or trafficking people to laundering money and the export of protected species, it was said.

Transparent borders

Mkuseli Apleni, DG of DHA and deputy DG of immigration Services, Jackie McKay, told members of the portfolio committee on home affairs that any country’s borders started at the exiting point of a foreign country and consequently there was a need to cross check that any person who applied was indeed the same person who entered the country.

Far too many persons were arriving in South Africa claiming asylum, they said, whereas they were already asylum seekers from another country or worse had arrived with their lawyers to fight a case for entry. Also too many people were extending their stay after visas and permits had expired and then applying for residence status.

A paradigm shift was necessary, Apleni said. “There is no intention of damaging the economy or hurting tourism or anything else. All changes had been researched and best practice immigration processes copied from other countries.”

SA presence abroad?

Consequently, in terms of South Africa’s presence in countries with investment opportunities, he said, “there was a move to extend the footprint of the department”. He quoted China, India and other BRICS countries as examples. He said the department issued some 600 000 passports annually to citizens who wanted to travel out and this year some 13.5m foreign nationals came in.

Abuse of the Refugees Act was also rife, Apleni said, “with over 90% of applicants only seeking economic survival”. The previous “tick-box approach to compliance” was not an effective way screening of applicants in having to contact the departure countries, especially if they were already in South Africa.

He said there was a flow of bogus asylum seekers who sought to acquire legal status through a marriage of convenience and many also acquired fraudulent identity documents after arrival in South Africa from an extensive network of domestic illegal suppliers.

The whole existing process as it stood had led to the extortion, abuse and exploitation of migrants, McKay said. Many who were found to hold fraudulent document obtained in SA or no documents at all could thus be coerced into crime.

Visa, by any name….

Apleni said mainly as a result of local and domestic demand from other state entities, the Immigration Act had been amended to refer to all categories of temporary residence permits as visas, thus making clearer the distinction between short stay visas and longer term or permanent residence permits.

All new applications for visas must be made at DHA missions abroad. These had to be in person, he said, and “biometric verification of credentials established prior to arrival in South Africa”.  He added that any changes in status or visa terms and conditions would also not be permitted from within SA and study visas would be issued for the duration of the studies, not year- by-year as had been in the case in the past.

As far as business visas were concerned, any “prospective business venture that enhanced the national interest and which was put forward as part of the application” would be processed by department of trade and industry (DTI) in terms of business feasibility, Apleni said.   Compliance with domestic labour laws, HDSA matters and the benefits to the SA economy would be looked into.

Minimum investment number

As far as new ventures were concerned, the investment minimum sum had been raised to R5m in consultation with DTI.   A list of undesirable businesses, not encouraged for business visas, had been published.    Intra-company transfer work visas were to be for four years instead of the current two.   Any person who overstayed their visit would be listed as an undesirable person and prevented from returning to SA for a certain period of time.

Apleni said that bearing in mind the new Employment Services Act, the quota and exceptional skills works permit system had been changed to a system of visas for needed critical skills. Critical skills had been published in June 2014.

Thorny issue

There were some major changes with youngsters on study tour for the duration of the degree only, he said, and persons travelling with a child must be in possession of an unabridged birth certificate and a consent affidavit from the parent or parents of the child authorising the person to travel with the child. There were about two million children travelling per annum, Apleni said.

(In recent weeks, a temporary relaxation on this demand has been given. Go to:  http://www.news24.com/Travel/South-Africa/Home-Affairs-backs-down-on-travelling-with-kids-20140610

In response to opposition claims that the new regulations were affecting tourism adversely and severely, Apleni argued that horrors of child abduction could not be countenanced and the changes were part of worldwide practice which travellers were getting used to.

McKay also added the delays in obtaining unabridged birth certificates for SA citizens only applied to “past births” because, he said, the current law for some time was that births had to be registered within thirty days as distinct from the past when some births were not even registered at all.  Now, if the right certificates were produced, the necessary document was issued “on the spot”.  Delays if birth certificates were missing could not be avoided, he said.

Not liked

Opposition members disagreed with DHA on the raising of the minimum limit for business ventures as “counter-productive” and not in line with developmental targets.

They still maintained that the new regulations  regarding the necessity to obtain visas in countries of origin were bad for tourism.   DHA responded that, in the first case, the new system protected better local small business which was a government priority to encourage. In the second case the new rules were the same as many other countries and also avoided difficult situations arising at South Africa’s ports of entry.

Refugees and asylum

In explaining the “first country rule” in terms of the Refugees Act to parliamentarians, DHA said that when a person fled his or her own country it was assumed they would seek refuge in the first safe country in which they arrived.  In terms of humanitarian norms and in terms of the Act, this was acceptable as a condition of asylum being granted.

But DHA said that what was happening was that some potential immigrants were “making a beeline to South Africa” for asylum wherever they came from.  As South Africa did not have an encampment policy, “refugee camps further north were being emptied”, Apleni said and asylum seekers coming to South Africa in the light of this country’s liberal conditions at law.

Consequently it was now also a condition to establish whether the person concerned had refugee status in another country, he concluded.

ANC supported the regulations as they stood and urged early implementation but opposition members voiced the belief that the proposals needed to be re-studied because of unintended consequences as worded.


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Home Affairs fails on most targets

Department getting just about nowhere…

sa passportDepressing figures and equally depressing facts emerged from the annual report of the department of home affairs (DHA) to Parliament this year in the light of, once again, a qualified audit report and some pretty sad performance figures against targets where only 100% achievement is recognised.

Mkuseli Aplieni, director general, DHA, was responsible for the reporting but he was supported by neither the minister, Naledi Pandor, nor the deputy minister, Fatima Chohan. The DHA claimed that its mandate was to maintain the national population register; to manage effectively all immigration and to “develop state and civil society partnerships in support of service delivery and security mandates.”

Aplieni said DHA had “reasonably and efficiently” facilitated large volumes of immigrants and visitors through ports of entry thus supporting large international events and the tourist industry; it had “largely” eradicated the backlog of temporary residence permits and there were some efficiency gains in deportations of illegal migrants and in the adjudication of asylum seekers.

100% achievement, nothing less

DHA had 50 target areas and had partially achieved these at between 41% and 99% of targets. A target achievement requires 100%.  DHA had however managed to refurbish 19 offices, and fill 60% of vacancies, and this was making gains on the strategy to bring DHA closer to the people, Aplieni said.
However, he told Maggie Mauyne, chair of the portfolio committee on home affairs, the DHA faced major challenges in managing a complex and dynamic immigration environment, as well as in aligning and strategically managing the planning and budgeting cycle with staff shortages.

Slow start to ID smart cards

He said the pilot project for providing smart card IDs was tested with 100 cards although it was noted that this would be a long-term project running over the next six to seven years. Smart card development would require three years to develop and then another six to seven years to issue the cards to 38 million ID book holders. This process could not be rushed, he said.

E-permitting and visa system specifications had been approved in quantity and finalised in the meanwhile, Aplieni said. In general however, 100% of ID duplicates for clients coming forward were resolved within 12 weeks but the challenges remained of duplicates and corruption surrounding IDs.

Residence permit backlog better

The backlog of temporary residence permits had been largely eradicated, he said, but there were still problems with the need for speed on permanent residence permits, although a special committee had been established to deal with them and the backlog.

In answer to questions on this subject, Aplieni said there were some basic problems with the temporary residence permit procedure in terms of legal procedure on a number of applications already received recently as well as the backlog that had built up.

The DHA, he said, had to focus on new temporary permits first but a committee had been set up to deal with the backlog and by November 2013 much of it should have been resolved. A committee of five people had been dedicated to dealing with this problem.

Can’t get to grip with computers

In terms of fighting against corruption, a draft concept paper was reported to be under consideration, specifically on the role of DHA in fighting corruption and strengthening the security of identity and immigration systems. DG Aplieni reported that the Auditor-General (AG) had not issued an unqualified audit report in this year and this was mainly because DHA partially because remained challenged with the IT systems.

Opposition members noted that the “burning issue” was the question of leadership in the department and even the internal auditing team was not doing its work properly. One ANC said that as the DHA was a security department, the issue of corruption was a matter of national security when it came to illegal or undesirable people likely to use the corruption that existed to secure their stay in the country. This was viewed as a serious threat to national integrity and security,let alone the problems noted by the AG.

Still leadership problems

DG Aplieni explained that there was in fact a structure of communication and meetings in the DHA. He accepted that there was some poor management arising from the fact that the Chief Operations Officer (COO) post was not filled and the DHA was seeking someone to appoint in that capacity. The COO would assist the DHA in monitoring and ensuring that the DHA was effectively and adequately operated and this would be a centre of communication in future leading to much better management of such issues.

He also explained that the President’s target for 50 000 foreign workers was onerous but the DHA was doing all that it could to reach that target.

Getting to grips with corruption

Again, concerns were also raised about corruption within the department and the subject was raised by MPs of home affairs employees who did not declare their private businesses. MPs complained that there was a “culture of corruption” within home affairs and asked DG Aplieni what measures were being put in place to discourage malpractice and detect bribes.

It was quite difficult for the DHA to detect staff who did not declare their businesses, he responded. The DHA had as much information as was declared by employees from a form setting out the declaration of their assets, but it was impossible to know of those who had not done this or who had done it properly. It was even more difficult for DHA to go to the Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office to investigate businesses that might be owned by employees or their spouses.

Back to IT vacuum

On the high vacancy rate, Aplieni said that the DHA faced certain challenges with employing people who were experienced in the IT field. Given the complexity of the work at the department there were many other positions that needed qualified people for DHA to achieve their objectives and targets and many posts stood vacant..

On the question of corruption, DG Aplieni said that the DHA did have disciplinary measures in place although “it took the issue of discipline seriously”. An employee could not be dismissed without the matter proceeding along the right lines. If there was a challenge and the matter went to court, that court action had to be allowed to run its course. He said that the Labour Relations Act and unions protected workers against dismissals. Whilst the matter might be before a court, an employee in question would be working and, eventually would be paid.

Foreigners entering

An ANC member expressed her concern around the fact that South Africa was not aware of the exact status or numbers of illegal or temporary foreigners in the country. She wanted to know what the DHA was doing to ensure national security and to prevent Kenyan terrorist-style attacks.

The response from DG Aplieni was that higher standards at ports of entry, DHA said, were not yet finalised although a draft concept paper on strengthening security of systems had been begun and was in process.

MPs asked for comment from the DHA on the woman who had been involved in a terrorist attack, who was claimed to be a South African. Aplieni said that this particular person, Samantha Lewthwaite, who might have been involved in the terrorist attack in Nairobi, was able to enter and leave the country without being detected or tracked down. DG Aplieni explained that the Department of Home Affairs in fact had compelling evidence that she was not using a South African passport.

No fingerprinting at borders

On border management and the question of undesirables entering the country, DG Apleni reminded the committee that no fingerprints were taken at border entry posts, although DHA was now at last included on the national security committee with South African Police Services and defence department.

On deportations of those staying illegally in South Africa, human rights activists sought judicial remedy which was expensive or embassies did not collaborate. This problem had to be solved at ministerial level, he said.  DHA was at the moment engaged in exhausting all judicial remedies available on the problem.

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