Haniff Hoosen, Shadow Minister of Home Affairs
15 July 2014
We meet at a time just 20 years since the father of our nation, Nelson Mandela, planted the first seeds of hope – when in his in his first sentence spoken in this parliament, he said:
“The time will come when our nation will honour the memory of all the sons, the daughters, the mothers, the fathers, the youth and the children who, by their thoughts and deeds, gave us the right to assert with pride that we are South Africans, that we are Africans and that we are citizens of the world.”
Honourable Chair, the responsibility to deliver on this right, rests with this department. It is the work that this department does that proves we are South African; that proves that we are African; and that proves that we are citizens of the world. The work of this department impacts on the lives of every South African and foreigner that enters our country.
This is why, Honourable Chair, all of us have a responsibility to make certain that this department delivers on its responsibilities in a manner that helps us change the lives of all South Africans and which breathes life into the hope and vision that Nelson Mandela had for us 20 years ago.
Lest I be accused of only criticizing, we must recognise that since 1994, this department has made many positive advances. We can document the many millions of South Africans whose rights and dignity, previously denied by the apartheid government, have been restored. The reduction in the time it takes to process and deliver passports is another example of the many successes of this department.
We must continue to make advances in changing the lives of our people, and we have a long road yet to walk.
Millions of South Africans still walk our streets everyday without the dignity of a decent job, and this department is not excluded from the responsibility of contributing towards job creation.
Take for example the advice of the National Development Plan where it promotes the migration of scarce skills into the country, a key contributor towards the development of a competitive commercial and industrial environment.
We all know that SA has a critical skills shortage. This is without a doubt a legacy of apartheid. It is imperative that we urgently address this problem in a positive manner.
But the new immigration regulations set us on a path to achieve the complete opposite. This is probably one of the worst pieces of legislation that I have come across in a very long time. Nothing that this department has done before, will contribute more towards job losses in our country than the new immigration regulations.
Honourable Minister, if you are serious about building our skills base, you will reduce the barriers of entry for scarce skills instead of fortifying them. If you are serious about increasing our skills base then you will offer incentives to attract scarce-skilled people, such as offering fee-free visas.
Instead you’ve now added a further surcharge of R1350 which VFS, the UK Based private company that now handles all visa applications, charges for their fees.
There are also huge backlogs in the issuing of permanent and temporary permits, and further requirements for permits only complicate the situation.
Honourable Minister, the solution is glaringly obvious. Open up our borders and lay down the red carpet for those who have the skills we require to build this country. Instead, Honourable Minister, you are doing the complete opposite.
The new regulations will undeniably make it more difficult for skilled foreigners who legally apply to enter South Africa. In an environment where our borders are so porous, and millions of illegal foreigners who are already in SA are slipping through the net because of a weak Immigration Inspectorate Division, we will end up with a situation where skilled foreigners will look elsewhere for work whilst unskilled illegal foreigners roam free in South Africa.
This approach only promotes a breeding ground for more xenophobic attacks in South Africa and does little to promote economic growth and job creation.
Let me illustrate another reason why your regulations are a bad idea:
In future, anyone travelling with a minor abroad will require an unabridged birth certificate. Now anyone who has recently applied for an unabridged birth certificate will tell you that the experience is a nightmare. In fact, it’s probably easier and faster to get a divorce.
Although the department promises delivery in weeks, in many instances it takes months. The main reason why it takes so long is because someone up there in Pretoria, has to manually verify the details of the parents before they can issue the certificate. Just picture in your mind what a primitive system we have when someone up there is probably running between hundreds of boxes trying to find documents to prove a child’s parenthood.
We urgently need to digitize the system in order to ensure faster turnaround times. This impediment will no doubt impact on the number of children who will travel abroad with their parents and in turn will impact on the revenue that is generated for the broader benefit of our country. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimated that in and outbound travel in South Africa was worth R24 billion last year. A quarter of this came from people travelling with children. This means that we place at risk, a potential R5bn in revenue, because of the introduction of just this one new requirement.
Honourable Minister, I completely understand your attempts to reduce child trafficking, but please sir, explain to this house why you introduced such a stringent requirement when you know that the Department of Home Affairs cannot deliver these documents in time for people to travel. It just simply does not make sense.
Let me give you another reason, Honourable Minister, why these regulations are going to destroy more jobs.
The introduction of VFS to facilitate the handling of all Visa applications will now render the hundreds of private immigration companies completely redundant. All these private practitioners employ thousands of South Africans who will now join their jobless counterparts on the streets. Explain again to the nation, Honourable Minister, where you expect these thousands of people to go, when finding a job in our country is becoming nearly impossible.
Let me give you yet another reason, Honourable Minister, why the regulations are bad for our country.
The tourism sector currently employs about 600 000 people. The National Development Plan suggests that the sector has the potential to add a further 225 000 jobs by 2020 and that this sector can contribute about R500bn to the economy.
The new regulations are causing havoc to thousands of tourists wanting to travel to South Africa. Already Chinese and Indian travel agents are advising their clients to seriously consider other destinations in Africa. I have no doubt this will have a huge impact on our tourism sector and I am sure that it will lead to further job losses.
Honourable Chair, I can give the Minister another 20 reasons why these regulations are bad for our economy and bad for job creation, but let me now focus on why it is bad for our image as a country.
Honourable Chair, the Value Statement of the Home Affairs Department is: “Committed to being people centred, caring, professional and having integrity.”
As a consequence of the new regulations, hundreds of foreigners who are forced to leave the country because the department does not have the capacity to grant them extensions in time are now being marked “undesirable”, and are banned from returning to the country for 5 years. Many of these foreigners have families and sometimes children who are South African citizens. It simply does not make sense why the Minister is hell-bent on punishing innocent foreigners for something they have absolutely no control over. This is tantamount to punishing innocent people for the department’s incapacity. This just does not make sense, and these hurried regulations are now tearing innocent families apart.
It also does not make sense, to expect thousands of foreigners in the country to use only 9 newly established visa centres when previously this service was being offered at hundreds of Department of Home Affairs offices countrywide.
Let me also tell you that if you want to apply for a visa through VFS in Johannesburg, the next available appointment is somewhere in the middle of August. This office can only accommodate a certain number of interviews in a day and the diaries are filling up fast. Soon one will have to wait months for an interview and this will have a knock-on effect on the number of people who travel in and out of the country.
Honourable Chair, I want to tell this house the story of a Pakistani citizen who recently had to be interviewed by a home affairs official for a residency permit. The new regulations require that the husband and wife are interviewed separately on the same day and time to determine the authenticity of their relationship. This young man had to suffer the indignity of describing the type, the colour and style of his wife’s underwear that she wore to bed the night before the interview. He also had to answer other similar questions that invaded his wife’s right to privacy. I ask you sir, is this the caring, professional and people-centred service that we should be delivering?
Honourable Minister, I appeal to your sense of reason. Please withdraw these regulations. They are tearing innocent families apart, they will destroy the creation of desperately needed jobs in our country, and they will kill our tourism sector. Furthermore, the regulations have been prematurely implemented without the use of a Regulatory Impact Assessment. Even the Minister of Tourism, Derek Hannekom, agrees, so maybe this will count for something.
Honourable Chair, for years now the Immigration Services Branch in this department consistently underperformed. Granted, the reasoning for this is often beyond the Department’s control, but one of the main contributors over the years has been the historical under-funding of this department. It is particularly concerning that this year’s budget once again shows a 14% reduction in budget allocation for Immigration Services. We should not, therefore, expect many surprises in turn-around strategies if we fail to back this Department up with more financial support.
Honourable Chair, I would like to congratulate the DG and the DDGs for making available their cellphone numbers at Home Affairs offices and on the Departmental website. This proves that senior management is serious about the quality of service delivery and we must give recognition for this.
We congratulate you too, Honourable Minister, on your recent appointment, but when you inherit a department that has declining performance targets, a department that has received yet another qualified audit and a department with increased legal challenges, you have your work cut out for you.
I thank you.