By Edward Laabu
The change in South African immigration law and permit processing system has left many foreigners in the country disappointed. Unlike in the past, the foreign office has appointed Visa Facilitation Services (VFS), a private company to process permit applications of foreign nationals.
I think Uganda could emulate South Africa and amend its immigration laws to control the influx of immigrants in the country. This would help root out some foreigners who ‘dive’ into the country with sinister motives.
Initially foreigners had to apply for permits at various regional offices of the Department of Home Affairs. But this is not the case anymore.
Foreigners are now required to appear in person at the VFS Centres to submit their applications and also have their biometric data captured. Applications for permanent residence permits and temporary Visas made in the country are also no longer submitted to the regional Departments of Home Affairs.
Instead, applications are submitted to the company’s centres known as Visa Appointment Centres (VACs) that have been opened in Cape Town, Durban, George, Johannesburg, Kimberly, Port Elizabeth, Rustenburg and Pretoria.
With this new development, foreigners are now disappointed and frustrated. Some are even suspicious that the government wants to make their stay difficult and or ‘kick’ them out of the country.
There as also been public 'outcry’ that the new immigration regulations are unconstitutional and that they do not favour foreigners.
But the South African government insists that the move is aimed at checking immigration and ensuring greater efficiency in the processing of visa applications of foreigners.
It also says that the VFS is a mere company that is restricted to handling the application process and that the company does not make any decisions to grant or refuse a visa to a foreigner.
According to government, the decision to issue or deny a visa to a foreigner entirely remains with the Department of Home Affairs.
But still, many foreign nationals are not convinced. Others are also ignorant about these new developments. The majority do not even know that there are new immigration laws in place and about the company VFS.
Foreigners should therefore not be blamed for being unaware of these developments. It is the South African government to blame because it has not done enough to inform the public especially foreigners about the new laws and the VFS.
Although the new system seems to be more convenient to only those equipped with computer skills and knowledge, it is however difficult for many.
The majority without these skills are finding it very difficult to renew or apply for permits as it involves an online process.
To apply for a permit, one has to fill in an online application form and then schedule an appointment, unlike before where one had to approach any regional office of the Department of Home Affairs and submit the necessary documents even without making an appointment.
Although the South African government is confident and convinced that the system will enhance efficiency in the line of processing permit applications, it should however put into consideration a number of issues that affect many foreigners in this country.
The majority of foreigners come from peripheral countries where knowledge and skills in computer is still lacking. In this case, many lack the knowledge and skills to be able to execute the online process. Unemployment and illiteracy are also problems affecting many foreigners. Those without jobs may not be able to afford the necessary fees set by the VFS.
For example, existing or prospective applicants have to ‘foot’ R1350, about 200,000 shillings to apply for a temporary or permanent permit yet this was not the case with regional departments of Home Affairs. Besides that, it is expensive to travel to the VACs especially for a foreigner who is not within the province where the centre is located.
President Zuma’s government thus needs to put into consideration the above problems affecting many foreigners in this country in order to ensure a smooth transition.
I therefore propose the following:
- It should conduct a national programme aimed at sensitising foreigners about the new immigration regulations and system in place, as many are not even aware of the new laws and the VFS ‘existence .
- The regional offices of the Department of Home Affairs in conjunction with the VFS should organise training workshops to educate foreigners about the new immigration laws and system that has been put in place.
- Foreigners should also be given guidance on the specific documentation required when applying for a permit.
- Platforms should be created to enable foreigners address issues that affect them.
If nothing is done, the new system might prevent many foreigners from renewing or applying for permits. This could also pose a serious challenge for the South African government as many foreigners will end up being undocumented in the country, a condition that would affect government planning and expenditure.
I also think that Uganda can emulate from South Africa and amend its immigration laws to control the influx of immigrants in the country. This would help root out some foreigners who ‘dive’ into the country with sinister motives.
The writer is a journalist based in Cape Town and also communication student at the University of South Africa