Foreigners obtain study visas in a day, task team finds

News 24 – 14 July 2022

  • Immigration-related fraud in South Africa is rife.
  • A task team has found a raft of irregularities in issuing permits and visas.
  • Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has reiterated the country is not for sale.

A probe of the Department of Home Affairs’ visa and residency applications has revealed foreign applicants younger than 25 are approved for retirement and study visas in just one day.

Study visas were approved with vague, nonsensical or little information about the “learner”.

This emerged during Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s briefing to the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs.

On Wednesday, Motsoaledi, senior department officials, and a task team reviewing permits and visas presented their findings.

The task team was established to review all permits issued since 2004 – the year in which the Immigration Act came into operation.

Former top civil servant Cassius Lubisi, who chaired the task team, told MPs on average, 23% of all study visa approvals between 2014 and 2021 were for Zimbabwean nationals, which were done through a normal study visa, with the calendar year from January 2021 to December 2021 being 25%.

“Likewise, 11% of all approvals were from Nigeria, and 10% were from Congo. The three mentioned countries thus contribute to 44% of all study visa approvals by foreign nationals for the period. Some study visas were finalised in one day.  

“On face value this is good, but if processes are followed, this seems suspicious and needs further investigation. Institutions of study peculiarities were detected where the course or institution descriptions were vague or nonsensical in the data. ‘Learner’ and ‘N/A’ classifications could be used to facilitate the approval of fake study visa applications.”

According to Lubisi, the review detected a spike in retired person visas and permit applications in 2018, but it was not clear what caused it.

The highest increase involved Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Nigerian and Indian citizens.

“Seventy-nine percent of applicants applied for retirement before the age of 55, of which 53% were eventually approved. In 2018, 65% of approved retirement visas were for applicants 55 years old or younger.  

“Applicants younger than 25 were approved to retire in the RSA. Retirement visas then changed to other visa types – people are applying and getting retirement visas granted, only to then apply for a change to this visa to work or to get married, indicating that the initial application for a retirement visa was only a ruse to enter the [country],” he said.

The government has come under fire over its decision to terminate the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) at the end of the year.

Zimbabwean Permit Chaos

An average of 34% of all critical-skills visa approvals from 2014 to June 2021 are for Zimbabwean nationals, with the calendar year from January 2021 to December 2021 being 38%. 

Evidence suggests a general trend of applicants changing from general worker to critical-skills visa applications and these then change from study to critical-skills visa applications.   

In 2016, a waiver notice was issued whereby anyone studying towards a critical skill in South Africa was given the right to apply for a permanent residency permit even before they qualified. 

The waiver was withdrawn by Motsoaledi in 2022.

In making its recommendations, the task team said several processes should be reviewed, including cohabitation agreements or notarial contracts that were being used to represent marriages.

The panel obtained evidence some of these were self-created.

The task team added fraudulent applications (with fraudulent documents) should be rejected outright

For a person to be given a retirement visa in South Africa, they needed to prove a certain income stream, it recommended.

The task team wants the department to conduct a detailed forensic investigation.

“Certain visas will have to be withdrawn, some people might have to be deported and criminal prosecution might have to be instituted. This will also include internal disciplinary action,” Lubisi said.

He added the review committee recommended mandating an independent multidisciplinary task team of attorneys, forensic investigators, specialist analysts, and ICT system experts to fully investigate all the anomalies, fraudulent applications, corrupt activities, systemic irregularities and maladministration identified.

Lubisi said this would help to make “appropriate recommendations” for criminal prosecution, disciplinary action, removal from the system, system improvements, recalling of visas, and the tracing of offending foreign nationals for deportation.

Motsoaledi reiterated the country is not for sale and corrupt official would be rooted out.

The committee also heard of the firing of six officials and disciplinary processes against four others.

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