Tag Archive | visa

Immigrant visa problems dominate debate

sam mototabaNorthern agriculture seen as visa defaulter…….

sent to clients 15 June…..Sam Morotoba, DDG of Public Employment Services, Department of Labour (DOL), told parliamentarians that it was DOL’s view that visa immigration policies for South Africa must involve cutting down on the flow of unskilled immigrants into the country.

From the nature of the debate, it was evident that DOL was more concerned on the creation of jobs for South Africans and not the issue of visa granting to specialist cases, a fact which gained the support of most  MPs.

Sam Morotaba said that amongst the massive inflow of undocumented persons crossing what is some 4,000kms of border there were those that did find work, had no entry visa and were totally exploited in the process. Most of the border was totally “porous”, he said.

More facts emerged during the particular Labour Portfolio Committee meeting when both DOL and the Department of Home Affairs (DOHA) jointly made presentations on immigration policy.   The practical aspects of the issue of work permits to foreigners, normally called “temporary visas” were discussed.

Not asylum seekers

Over 70% of the non-documented labour problem occurred in Limpopo Province, according to DOL figures.    It was also shown that there were approximately 300,000 illegal immigrants in the country at present, whether they were working or not.   Refugees from war and refugees seeking asylum were a completely different issue, Morotaba said, and they represented a much smaller number, .

sa border beit bridgeSpecially conducted “raids” on farms and businesses in the Northern areas and which were carried out by the few inspectorate staff that were available to DOL were frustrated by the advent of the cell-phone.    Messages were simply sent ahead by immigrant employees advising that a “raid” was in progress and workers who had no documentation but wanted the work simply went into hiding.

Some employers told their employees not to come to work when appointments with DOL inspectors were made. “Raids”, in conjunction with South African Police Services,were extremely difficult to undertake unless the matter was serious enough to consider that a possible breach of the law had taken place.

Traffickers

The problem was exacerbated, said Morotaba, by traffickers that postured as labour “sellers” and went from farm to farm offering cheap labour in the form of immigrants without documentation looking for work.    Inspectors had resorted to “raids” on Friday “paydays” and also at night.  Employers were generally unhelpful; gaining access to farms was difficult; and the success rate in finding illegal immigrants was therefore low, said DOL.

Farmers remained the major culprits, it became apparent – an issue which has been the main theme of chairperson Lumka Yengeni of the Portfolio Committee on Labour for a number of years.

DOL said that there were more than five million legal immigrants in the country and the laws of South Africa demanded that all workers be protected, whether illegal or not, in terms of the Constitution. This had to be borne in mind, they said.

Desperate people

However, underpaying desperate people who had no temporary visa and housing them in filthy conditions, was farm labourersquite a different matter and was a contravention of all international principles. This was the issue facing DOL.

Also, some companies and employers simply did not want to test the local market for labour suitability or could not be bothered to try, DOL said, and also probably also wanted to avoid UIF participation, collection and payment and few farmers got involved in the cost of skills training.

Home Affairs briefing

The main agenda of the portfolio committee meeting in question was the subject of the nature of relationships between DOHA and DOL. Also their observations were requested on the current position with regard to delays in issuing visas and DOHA was asked to give a technical explanation of where the visa issuance process was headed.

DOHA was represented Acting Chief Director for Visas, Home Affairs, Modiri Matthews, supported by Ronnie Marhule. Modiri Matthews said his department was mandated by the Immigration Act to deport those unlawfully in the country.

visa stampHe made it clear that the Immigration Act stated that a temporary residence visa could be granted only for the categories of Study, Treaty, Business, Crew, Medical Treatment, Relatives, Work, Retired Persons, Exchange and Asylum.

It was only when a permanent resident permit was issued that the holder was entitled to live in South Africa on a permanent basis, with all the rights and obligations of a citizen except the right to vote and use an SA passport. This was standard in most countries, he said.

Visa classification

There were three kinds of visas – Corporate, General Work Visa and a Business Visa.   Most farming entities and general business fell under the category of corporate visas, where a requested number of foreigners was needed by an employer.

Proof had to be supplied that despite a diligent search, the applicant could not find suitable SA citizens or permanent residents to occupy the positions; the job description had to be given; and it had to be conditional that salary and benefits paid would not be less than standard agreed emoluments.

Home Affairs confirmed that feedback indicated that the current system is too cumbersome due to DHA’s lack of capacity to handle the volume of applications; the fact that “standard operating procedures” within the department were ambiguous; that many officials were insufficiently trained and turnaround around times were too slow.

Speeding things up

Modiri Matthews promised parliamentarians that new electronic systems were in place to ensure a more secure system of interaction between DHA, DOL and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) – the latter being responsible for issuing the quota or number of visas issued, all of which had expiry dates. The plan envisaged is that once the permission is issued by DTI, for DHA to take 30 days and DOL no more than 8 weeks to process a visa request andvisa with hand DHA to issue or decline.

When asked by MPs whether or not Home Affairs had a tracking system on visas granted but which had expired, whether working or not, Modiri Matthews responded that they had and the number of expired visas currently stood in the area of 30,000, which were on the tracking system.

Waiting period

Present at the meeting were also Ronnie Marhule, Acting Chief Director of Permits and Visas and Phindiwe Mbhele, Director for Corporate Permits and in question time, Angie Loliwe of the ANC complained to them that if the application were with DTI for even only 2 weeks, then the DOL process was added for thirty days and with Home Affairs adding about 8 weeks, there was not really any possibility of waiting less than three months for any one application to be processed at the very best. This was too long, she said.

Both Directors stated that there were “pressure points” mainly related to capacity to deal with the volumes of applications and this mainly affected “corporate” visas to farm workers. They told members of the Labour Committee that they were trying to deal with this, especially where urgent business applications were concerned.

They reminded MPs that with nearly 300,000 illegal immigrants, systems such as an “expired document” process was a time consuming business and DOL “had their work already cut out with the farming situation and inspections.”

One track discussion

Ninety per cent of the meeting time was spent discussing farm labour problems in the light of ANC problems with illegal labour entry to the North. Modiri Matthews said that there were only 11 centres in South Africa handling visa applications. There was a new office in Sandton, Johannesburg, he said, specifically geared to business needs.

To the irritation of some of the ANC members it was confirmed that the offices in East London and Port Elizabeth had been closed.   There was only one office for the whole of KwaZulu-Natal.   However, Matthews said there was was a specific plan to open two new business offices -presumed to be Cape Town and Durban.

Previous articles on category subject
Home Affairs gets tough on expired visas – ParlyReportSA
Home Affairs gives reasons for visa changes – ParlyReportSA
Agri-SA gives views on minimum wage – ParlyReportSA

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Home Affairs gets tough on expired visas

Fines for expired visas not working…

sent to clients 21 Jan…  Now that Parliament has resumed it will not be long before for the Portfolio Committee on Homevisa rules Affairs  considers public comment and input on amendments to the Immigration Act re-defining what the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) terms as “inadequate sanction on foreign persons who remain in South Africa after their visas have expired”.

The Committee is responding to the fact that it is the Minister’s opinion that fines on foreigners who overstay their welcome were not serving as a sufficient deterrent to cease the regular practice of non-residents to continue their stay beyond the expiry date of their visa.

Troublesome clause

Section 30 of the 2002 Immigration Act has already been amended a couple of times regarding either the wording itself, which has not stood up in court, or, in the opinion of the DHA is now insufficient in itself as a deterrent to the practice.

The wording of the last amendment had led to various interpretations and to quote the government gazette on the issue, “some holding the view that a foreigner must overstay a number of times to be declared undesirable while others hold the view that one instance of overstaying would result in a declaration of undesirable.”

Another way

visa with handThe issue has now been approached in a different manner, which as far as can be established would deny the holder ever returning to SA unless agreed to by the Minister. The proposed changes amend the anchor Act so that foreigners who overstay after the expiry of their visas do not qualify for a port of entry visa, a visa, admission into South Africa or a permanent resident permit during the relevant prescribed period.

This would seem to establish that the offending foreigner has no status as a visa holder at all when it expires and that person immediately becomes an undesirable entrant by definition as any conditions of entry no longer apply. The implications of being declared an undesirable entrant under these circumstances will be debated.

Written comment expired

Once any comments are received, such will be part of a debate as to whether the amending Bill should be accepted as it stands, any amendments agreed upon made, voted upon and passed to the National Assembly for “reading”. Written comment addressed to Parliament was stated as being until 20 January 2016. Whether any hearings were agreed upon is awaited.
Previous articles on category subject
Home Affairs gives reasons for visa changes – ParlyReportSA
Home Affairs fails on most targets – ParlyReportSA

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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.

ends

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