Dear Clients, Partners and Friends,
It is that time of the year again when the weeks seems to be racing by so much faster than usual! Year-end is around the corner, and this also means the countdown has begun for bringing outstanding visa and permit matters in order, and for putting in place thorough visa and mobility strategies for the coming year, before the Department of Home Affairs closes its doors for the yearly summer break.
In general, there is a subtle sense of re-awakening in the country and also in the immigration and tourism sectors. As summer hits South African shores, our vaccination rate stands at 35% for the first jab, which is low but steadily rising, and Covid-19 numbers in the country are extremely low. Travel from South Africa has been opened by Germany and the United Kingdom and is due to be opened by the United States this month. More and more airlines return to their routes to Mzansi again. In the background, the immigration policy framework and processes are being reviewed especially around skilled migration and permanent residence. With all this in mind, it is a good idea to use these last weeks of 2021 to submit applications or prepare for upcoming processes, before the rules change in unpredictable ways or the application numbers spike just before the end-of-year closures. My team and I are here to help you with strategic advice and support during this final stretch of 2021.
This short newsletter will give you the latest on lockdown-related extensions and special concessions, on the new critical skills list, on the Angolan and Zimbabwe exemption permit, and on the availability and quality of Home Affairs services. Also, a reminder not to let your permanent residence lapse due to long absence! See more below.
With warm regards,
No More Automatic Visa and Permit Extensions
As announced in our newsflash, most lockdown-related automatic extensions have now expired. By 30th September, holders of visas that had expired during the lockdown had to either leave the country or apply for an extension or change of visa. Failing this, they are in the country illegally and will be declared undesirable on departure, banning them from returning to South Africa for between 12 months and 5 years.
Exceptions to this rule apply to a) persons who have applied for a “waiver” and have not left the country since March 2020, and b) persons whose asylum seeker or refugee permits have expired during the lockdown. Their status is deemed to be valid until 31 December 2021.
Concession for Intra-Company-Transfer Visa Holders
A welcome concession by the Minister benefits holders of intra-company transfer visas which have either expired during lockdown or will expire by June 2022. Although this visa category is generally not extendible, its holders are – under certain conditions - allowed to apply for a renewal of up to 24 months.
New Critical Skills List – Under Consultation
Do your skills fall under the current critical skills list, and do you need a visa, extension or permanent residence? Then we have good news for you. Developments around the new list have stalled, even though recent internal plans had aimed at an implementation date of 1 October.
Do your skills fall under one of the critical skills categories contained in the draft list published earlier this year? Then you will have to rack up some more patience before you will know whether or not you qualify for this visa, and if so, before you can apply.
It is likely that there will only be a few days between the publication of the list, which can happen any day, and it coming into force and effect. Our crystal ball guess is that the new list will not come before January, but we may be surprised.
Permanent Residents Outside of South Africa – Don’t let your status expire!
A reminder to permanent residents living outside of South Africa who have not been able to enter or return to the country due to the pandemic:
If a person receives their permanent residence whilst outside of the country, they need to activate the permit by entering South Africa within 12 months from the date of issue. All permanent residence holders have to make sure to enter South Africa at least every three years in order not to lose their permanent residence status. As reported on in our April newsletter, a special Ministerial concession assisted those who were unable to meet these obligations due to travel restrictions or concerns during the pandemic. The concession allows them to return without losing their status due to late activation or an absence of over 3 years, by 31st December 2021. Although further extensions of this concession may follow depending on the status of the pandemic, there has not been an indication of such extension and the discontinuation of the automatic visa extensions (see above) may be an indication that no further extensions are on the cards here, either.
Home Affairs Services Update
What can you apply for?
- As of 1 October, applications for confirmation of permanent residence and appeals of negative permanent residence outcomes have been received by Home Affairs.
- Permanent residence applications open again on 2 January 2022.
- Citizenship services are still largely closed, with the exception of applications for retention or renunciation of citizenship.
How long does it take?
- To start with positive news, the processing times for visa applications at some overseas missions have recently been reasonable, even fast.
- Also, after almost a year of local visa applications taking nine months and longer to be processed (as opposed to the regular 4-6 weeks), there have recently been some faster results received, and officials have been more accessible. This seems to be testament to the Department of Home Affairs since September no longer being as restrictive with regards to physical attendance and rotational schedules. May this not be exceptions, but a trend!
- Although the rejection rate remains high (see below), appeal processing times have improved dramatically over the last 18 months. Where waiting times averaged at 9 to 12 months pre-COVID, visa appeals are now largely finalized within 2-3 months, albeit only in the case of local submissions and not where applications were made through the South African missions abroad.
- Permanent residence, on the other hand, remains an unspeakable nightmare. Although no new permanent residence applications have been accepted for over 18 months (freeing up capacities), even a dedicated backlog project has not been able to generate tangible results other than subtle indications of some files being assessed. The Minister’s commitment to clearing the 40 000-file backlog by the end of 2021 currently appears to be a pie in the sky.
What do you get?
- Erroneous rejections are still a daily occurrence in the industry, and even positive results regularly contain errors that require rectification.
- Although the frustration and uncertainty that comes with this situation cannot be completely avoided, IMCOSA has been able to prevent rejections and errors in most cases.
Angolan and Zimbabwe Exemption Permits
Applications for the Angolan Exemption Permit (AEP) are open since August. Angolan nationals who have either received refugee or asylum seeker status in South Africa before 31 August 2013, who hold an Angolan Special Permit (ASP) or who were previously issued with the Angolan Cessation Permit (ACP), can now apply. Once a person receives the AEP, their spouses and children can apply for ordinary visas or permits.
Uncertainty remains regarding whether or not the Zimbabwe Special Dispensation Permits (ZSP), which are due to expire on 31st December 2021, will be extended. A submission by the Minister of Home Affairs is currently being considered by Cabinet. Thousands of ZSP holders have taken the Minister to court asking to receive permanent residence on grounds of their long stay in the country. In the meantime, the approximately 120 000 ZSP holders, their families and employers are left in uncertainty about their futures.