Concern is high among many Zimbabweans in South Africa after it was announced by the authorities there that special work and study permits, granted to Zim nationals, will expire later this year.
South Africa's cabinet resolved last week that the permits, granted under the Zimbabwe Special Dispensation Project, will expire in November 2014.
The resolution also includes a decision that fresh permits can be obtained, but only if people return to Zimbabwe to apply.
This decision is set to be fully explained by SA Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor next week. But the planned move is already drawing criticism for rendering the documentation process 'null and void'.
Diana Zimbudzana from the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum told SW Radio Africa that the resolution will see Zim nationals choosing to work illegally in South Africa once again. She explained that permit holders will not risk returning to Zimbabwe with no guarantee of receiving the documentation that will allow them re-entry to South Africa.
"The resolution is a sad development because it forces people back into a situation that the permits lifted them out of, and that was being illegal. Zimbabweans went out of their way to get these permits, but they won't forfeit their lives in South Africa if there are no guarantees they will get the permits again," Zimbudzana said.
She questioned what the point of the documentation project was, saying "people will work in South Africa illegally, be deported, and then return again as we have seen for years."
"South Africa will lose millions (of rand) in deporting people. So they might as well adopt a better policy," Zimbudzana said.
The documentation project was launched in 2010 to give Zim nationals the opportunity to regularize their stay in South Africa by applying for work or study permits. The project offered an alternative to Zimbabweans trying to legalise their continued stay in South Africa, other than turning to the country's chaotic and over-subscribed asylum system.
An estimated 230, 000 Zimbabweans applied for permits, which is said to be a fraction of the real number of Zim nationals living in South Africa. These figures are almost impossible to confirm, with no system of registering and checking the number of nationals who have fled to South Africa during the past decade.
Refugee rights group PASSOP has said that many people are still waiting for their permits. Zimbudzana said Friday that some people's permits have only been issued in recent months, and they are now faced with the documents expiring as soon as November.
"Their time has now been cut off and there is no explanation about this. So we'd expect now for the Minister of Home Affairs to offer us (civil society) a chance to make a presentation and engage with us on the future," Zimbudzana said.