Massive visa fraud uncovered in South Africa: minister

Businesstech – 26 July 2022

Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi says that a ministerial committee reviewing permits and visas in South Africa has uncovered deep-rooted corruption within his department when it comes to handling certain types of visas.

He said that insiders in the department had aided applicants in gaming the system, and had often directly flouted the country’s laws in issuing student and retirement visas to foreign nationals looking to enter the country.

In a column published by the City Press, Motsoaledi said he was compelled to launch the committee and investigation after high-profile cases involving foreign pastors showed that they had been in South Africa on false or invalid visas.

When the investigations started, he said, certain employees within the department pushed back and protested. This only pushed the department to dig deeper, he said.

What the committee found was that various forms of visa fraud were taking place, including:

  • Home affairs officials creating fake users on internal systems
  • Deliberate interference with visa processes and applications
  • IDs were stolen to access the systems
  • Both internal and external manipulation of  applications
  • Processes were circumvented or ignored to issue visas and permits fraudulently

Motsoaledi said the fraud was particularly egregious when it came to issuing permanent resident permits (PRPs), which were in many cases awarded without applicants meeting the requirements. This includes the PRPs being awarded before the five years in the country requirement was up, or spousal approval with fake certificates.

There were also cases where previous applications had been flagged for fraud, but then approved the second time. Instead, these cases should have been handed over to authorities for further investigation, the minister said.

Worryingly, Motsoaledi noted that it wasn’t only department fraud that was allowing applications to slip through but also that applicants had learned to game the system. The minister highlighted a scheme called “forum shopping”, where applicants juggle various visas for five years so they can stay in the country and then apply for a PRP.

“One enters the country to visit. Suddenly, one applies for asylum or a work visa. One then applies for a waiver of their asylum status or a change to their work visa conditions as they have a life partner living in South Africa. And one then applies for a PRP after the five-year period has expired,” Motsoaledi said.

The minister also highlighted issues with applications for study visas, where courses or colleges are vague or unidentifiable, and retirement visas, where people are being granted access long before retirement age.

“There were instances in which applicants younger than 25 were approved to retire in South Africa. Retirement visas were then changed to other visa types,” he said.

The minister said that it has been recommended that an independent multidisciplinary task team of specialists and experts be set up to fully investigate all the anomalies, fraudulent applications, corrupt activities, systemic irregularities, and maladministration.

“This is because, clearly, there will be a need for criminal prosecution, departmental disciplinary action, removal of certain names from the country’s databases, system improvement, recalling of visas and the tracing of offending foreign nationals for deportation,” he said.

Other prominent recommendations include the review of legislation and regulations that have gaps that enable some of these activities to occur, and that the technology be reviewed to make it impossible for these activities to occur.

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