STEFANIE DE SAUDE DARBANDI: Scores of foreigners face criminal records over conflicting visa information

STEFANIE DE SAUDE DARBANDI: Scores of foreigners face criminal records over conflicting visa information

2021-10-21 12:59:00 AM

STEFANIE DE SAUDE DARBANDI: Scores of foreigners face criminal records over conflicting visa information

Potentially hundreds of people are in limbo after new directions by the department of home affairs on extensions

 extension only applied to asylum seeker and refugee permits, and people in SA who have applied for immigration waivers. The statement said visa holders had been given an opportunity to extend their visas or leave the republic on or before September 30 2021.

Jub Jub suspended by TV channel | Citypress SA officially in fourth COVID-19 wave Zimbabwe's main airport operating without radar, says lawmaker

This led to a rush of people to VFS offices — to no avail. Because any payments made on September 30 would only reflect the next day or even later, they were too late to renew their visas. These foreigners are thus now in SA illegally, facing a future ban if they return to their countries of birth and a fine if they remain in SA.

Many of these people, who live, work and run businesses in SA, are deeply concerned that if they leave the country they could face a ban of between one and five years, with serious impacts on their families, jobs, employees and even homes and pets in SA. Others, assuming an admission of guilt fine for overstaying is just a slap on the wrist, are now discovering that signing admission of guilt will automatically give them a criminal record — making them undesirable in the eyes of the department of home affairs.

After 18 months of limited services, the department of home affairs faces a huge backlog. Therefore processes that were slow in “normal” times are glacial now. Waivers and visa applications and extensions are taking months, and in some cases a year, to obtain.

Create employmentDespite the lifting of lockdown restrictions and the vaccination rollout, the department is not making progress on applications that affect the lives of tens of thousands of people. This situation is likely to worsen in December, when home affairs operates with fewer staff and VFS closes for the holidays.

It should be noted that thousands of the foreigners in question are not refugees and asylum seekers, but contributing members of society who bring revenue to the communities where they live, and often also create employment in SA.They may be professionals with critical skills, who are also in limbo due to slow progress in the development of the new critical skills list. This list, still in draft form after months as a work in progress, omits scores of people by being skewed towards academic qualifications over experience. We understand that former home affairs director Mavuso Msimang has been tasked by the president to speed up the process of finalising the critical skills list, which could go some way towards enabling foreign skills and investment to come back into SA. We welcome and look forward to Msimang’s involvement. 

However, for the rest of the foreigners now stranded between a rock and a hard place, securing a future in SA looks like a tall order. • De Saude Darbandi is immigration and citizenship law specialist at De Saude Darbandi Attorneys. Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?

July unrest | There were signs of trouble to come, says Cele LIVESTREAM: Police Minister testifies at SAHRC hearings SA records 16,055 new COVID-19 infections, 25 deaths Read more: Business Day »

LIVESTREAM | Eskom provides update on system challenges

Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter is back with an update on the grid.