Dear Clients, Partners and Friends,
We hope you and yours are healthy and well. Whilst Covid infection rates in many parts of the world are rising again, and despite South Africa’s snail-paced vaccination roll-out, we have not yet seen signs of a third wave and public life remains fairly new-normal. Visitors are starting to arrive again, and those who are in the country tend to want to stay on. A number of exemptions have been issued to accommodate the special circumstances brought about by the pandemic. On the other hand, those hoping to make applications for permanent residence or citizenship have now been waiting a year for those services to be opened.
An eventful first term of 2021 lies behind us. News of changes to travel and immigration rules are coming in hard and fast, and through our newsbox (www.imcosa.co.za) we have kept you updated on the key developments. In this newsletter, find more detail on automatic visa and permit extensions, exemptions for permanent residents, the new critical skills list, availability and quality of visa, immigration and citizenship services, a group court action joined by Imcosa clients, and upcoming special application arrangements for Imcosa clients.
As always, the Imcosa team is available for any questions you may have and will gladly support you in securing the required documents for your stay and activities in South Africa.
Automatic Visa and Permit Extension: Who does it apply to?
Are you in South Africa on an expired tourist visa or unable to leave the country before its expiry? Take a deep breath. As per Directive of 26 March, all short-term visas that have expired since 15 March 2020 are automatically extended to 30 June. Their holders can leave the country by that date without being penalised for not holding a valid visa by being declared illegal, undesirable or having to be legalized first. This exemption excludes visas issued on or after 15 March 2021, so if you receive an extension of your visitor’s visa or arrive in the country after 15 March, you will have to leave the country by the expiry date reflected on your visa. Holders of asylum seeker permits or refugee status that have expired since 15 March 2020 are similarly exempted and can remain in the country, apply for extensions (electronic services are apparently envisaged) or for waivers to change their status to a temporary visa, by 30 June 2021.
Those holding long-term visas (valid for more than 90 days) that have expired since 15 March 2020 or are about to expire, may apply for an extension or change by 31 July. NOTE: Holders of expired long-term visas do not appear to enjoy the benefit of penalty-free exit by 30 June. They have to apply for an extension of their stay or be declared undesirable for up to five years when leaving the country.
Any questions? Need to extend your long-term visa? We are happy to help as always.
Blanket Concession of Permanent Residents Outside of South Africa
In non-pandemic times, if you receive your permanent residence whilst outside the country, you need to activate the permit by entering South Africa within 12 months from the date of issue. If you are already a permanent residence holder, but happen to spend an extended time away from South Africa, you have to make sure to return within three years in order not to lose your permanent residence status. During a global pandemic, this otherwise reasonable requirement can present a challenge, and many of our clients have been concerned over the past year about losing their permanent residence for not being able to arrive or return within the legal timeframes. They have now been given a breather through the blanket Ministerial concession that we announced in our last newsletter and that was finally issued on 18 March 2021. The concession gives them until 31 December 2021 to enter or return to South Africa to activate or maintain their status. Further extensions may follow, depending on the status of the pandemic. Please contact our team with any questions you may have.
New Critical Skills List Imminent – Apply Now
Pressured by the impact of the Covid pandemic and the resulting need to invigorate South Africa’s economy, a draft of new critical skills has been published for comment by 31 March. The extensive document (https://www.gov.za/sites/default/files/gcis_document/202102/44164gon96.pdf) resembles a rushed cut-and-paste job that still requires refinement. Whilst a variety of professions and skills are covered by the draft, there are some key categories that are missing from the draft list, including:
• Foreign language speaker for the BPO sector
• Foreign language speaker in the travel sector
• Corporate General Manager or similar category to accommodate C-level executives
• Teachers, particularly STEM
• Academic / PhD holder
• Environmental professions (Environmental Consultant, Environmental Engineer, Environmental Manager, Environmental Technologist etc)
• Electrical Engineer
Imcosa has made comments on the above, on the need to recognise experience in lieu of formal qualification and on other technical problematics. Comments received will now be reviewed, and the final list will likely be published within the coming six months. If your skills are on the existing, but not on the draft list, apply now for your visa, and prepare your permanent residence application now for submission once applications open.
Behind the Scenes; Permanent Residence and Citizenship Still Closed for Business
The Minister’s declared intention to combat corruption within the Department (prominently exposed through the Gupta citizenship case) is highly welcome, but with several suspensions has also led to general turmoil amongst Head Office officials. The Minister announced in early March a mammoth project of reviewing all corporate, business, critical skills, retirement and study visas, all permanent residence permits and all citizenships by naturalisation granted since 2004. Some officials are feeling unfairly scrutinised and many are said to be extra cautious now, leading to further delays.
Applications for temporary residence, waivers and appeals are still open, but those for permanent residence and citizenship remain closed. It has been a year since these applications were accepted by Home Affairs, and concerns are growing about the Department’s capacity to manage the number of applications that are waiting to be submitted as soon as these services open. Imcosa is awaiting confirmation of a special arrangement for off-site submissions that will alleviate the pressure in this regard. It will be announced when available. Whilst results for permanent residence have been trickling in, no movement whatsoever has been felt in citizenship matters. According to our information, officials are sitting with piles of results, but not touching them.
Since our last newsletter, visa processing times have lengthened and now average at 2-3 months. The quality of adjudication has heavily deteriorated, and we have seen numerous erroneous rejections, which had to be appealed. This appears to be a function of the leadership disruptions mentioned above and is being raised with management.
Court Action Against Home Affairs for Failure to Decide on Permanent Residence Applications
Imcosa has joined a group action against the Department aimed at receiving results for long-outstanding applications for permanent residence. Over 40 of our clients who have been waiting between one and four years for their outcomes, grabbed this opportunity to take Home Affairs to task and push for their results. Similar actions may come up in the future. If you are interested to join, please keep checking our newsbox on www.imcosa.co.za or our LinkedIn account.
Upcoming Special Submission and Collection Arrangements
As Imcosa we may soon be able to offer our clients the option to apply for visa or permits without having to go into VFS offices. This off-site submission service will allow our clients to avoid the crowds, waiting times and health risks associated with going into VFS offices. We are also awaiting confirmation of a prioritised collection service. Watch our newsbox on www.imcosa.co.za or our LinkedIn account for updates.