14 July 2014

Zimbabwe: SA Not Budging On Tough Immigration Law Changes

Photo: Kristy Siegfried/IRIN
Edeline Kupara, from Zimbabwe, queueing outside the Refugee Reception Office in Cape Town (file photo).

THE South African government on Monday said it would not budge on its new immigration laws but pledged to "deal" with problems raised in the implementation of those regulations.

The new immigration laws have sparked confusion and panic among foreigners, particularly the 250,000 Zimbabweans who acquired permits under the 2010 special dispensation exercise.

According to the new immigration regulations introduced on May 26, individuals should return to their countries of origin if they want to apply for extensions of residence permits.

The new regulations have however, sparked howls of protests from foreigners, particularly Zimbabweans, who complain that they are unnecessarily cumbersome.

But speaking to journalists at the launch of the Rivonia Visa Facilitation Centre in Johannesburg on Monday, South Africa's Home Affairs Minister, Malusi Gigaba, said the new regulations are here to stay.

"We are willing to engage with anybody who has concerns about the implementation. There are things in the immigration legislation which cannot be up for discussion," he said.

Gigaba said enough time was given to raise concerns about the new regulations before they were passed into law.

The immigration regulations, which came into effect in May, introduce a new visa regime for South Africa, which however does not affect Zimbabwe.

The new regime outlines a clear distinction between short-stay visas and long-stay permanent residence permits.

It also stipulates that visa applications need to be made by applicants in person and those wanting to change the status of their visa can no longer do so in South Africa but have to do so at missions in their home countries.

Gigaba said his department was aware of problems such as lack of internet access and people who were not in possession of their original birth certificates.

"We are ready to discuss the implementation and how to deal with the challenges experienced," he said.

He said the tourism department, immigration officers and immigration practitioners had already raised issues regarding the implementation of the new regulations.

The new regulations have drawn mixed reactions with tourism and business operators arguing their operations could be negatively affected.

Last week the case spilled into the South African Parliament with the Democratic Alliance MP, Masizole Mnqasela, calling on the government to extend the permits saying Zimbabweans had contributed immensely to the development of the country.

However, Gigaba said the department would not "compromise" on security and its international obligations.

In June he announced that VFS Global, a worldwide outsourcing and technology services specialist for diplomatic missions and governments, had been appointed to receive and manage visa and permit applications in South Africa.

The company was given the mandate to automate the application processes, develop a solution for biometric intake in line with the new immigration regulations, manage a dedicated call centre and deliver outcomes to clients efficiently and timely.

VFS Global has established 11 Visa Facilitation Centres in all nine provinces, with Gauteng and the Western Cape provinces each having two centres in light of their high volume of applications.

Zimbabwe's Home Affair Minister Kembo Mohadi has affirmed his ministry's commitment to engage his South African counterpart over the issue of permits.

"We have not yet concluded discussing the issue with our South African counterparts, but the discussions are ongoing. We will meet soon," said Mohadi.

"Right now I cannot confirm the date because we are still waiting for the South Africans to write to us, which we expect will be very soon. There is no reason to panic because everything is under control. This is a very small matter, which is not at all insurmountable.

"We are confident that after we conclude the discussions and agree on one thing we will all be smiling. We are not even thinking about repatriating anyone at the moment because we have not even got to that part at all."

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