Archive from September, 2014

SA not on its knees over UK visa requirements, says Gigaba

by Khulekani Magubane, 26 September 2014, Business Day live

SOUTH Africa is still hoping that the British government will reintroduce a visa exemption for South Africans travelling to the UK although SA is by no means on its knees over the issue, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba told reporters on Thursday.

Mr Gigaba’s position follows the introduction of visa requirements for British government officials and diplomats in September. The requirement is a tit-for-tat response to the introduction of visa requirements on all South Africans by the UK.

Mr Gigaba told reporters in Pretoria that the South African government had tried to resolve the matter with the UK by seeking a visa-requirement exemption for South African diplomats and officials but “those efforts were in vain”.

“We engaged the British government to understand the rationale and make them reconsider or at least exempt officials and diplomats. When engagements were in vain we then decided to reciprocate as an international principle but exempted ordinary citizens of the UK,” Mr Gigaba said.

Officials and diplomats of the UK would have to apply for a visa in person at the SA high commission in Britain before visiting SA, Mr Gigaba said. He also said SA did not understand why Britain had introduced the requirements but dismissed the argument that the South African passport was not secure.

SA would consider reviewing requirements for British officials and diplomats if the UK was prepared to review their requirements on travellers from SA, said Mr Gigaba.

Meanwhile, the minister said home affairs was to start processing applications for the Zimbabwe Special Project regime from October.

The new regime is an extension for Zimbabwean nationals in SA under the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project which is set to expire in December.

These Zimbabweans will now have to apply for new permits which will expire in December 2017. After that date the holders of the special permit will be expected to apply for a normal permit or visa to extend their stay in SA.

Mr Gigaba told reporters in Pretoria on Thursday that 10 offices would be open throughout the country to interview applicants. The process would begin with an online application on the website run by VFS Global, the company subcontracted by home affairs to handle visa and permit applications.

“From the first of October people can apply online and not at a VFS office… the interviews will be adjudicated at our offices,” Mr Gigaba said.

He also said while the department was expecting long queues — as an estimated 245,000 Zimbabwean nationals would apply to have their special permits extended — the stored electronic information and home affairs’ improved document storage systems would mitigate delays.

The fee for the special permit is set at R870.

Mr Gigaba said this cost was fair, considering the price of permits of similar duration and the fact that applicants did not need to leave SA.

In 2009, Cabinet approved the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project, which was meant to:

  • Regularise Zimbabweans residing in SA illegally;
  • Curb the deportation of Zimbabweans who were in SA illegally;
  • Reduce pressure on the asylum seeker and refugee regime, and

• Provide amnesty to Zimbabweans who obtained SA documents fraudulently

Sep 30, 2014 - Business Permit    No Comments

Passport Office to be stripped of agency status after soaring summer backlog

Home secretary says Passport Office to be made directly accountable to ministers with chief executive effectively sacked

The Passport Office, the agency blamed for the chaos this summer when the backlog of applications exceeded half a million, is to be made directly accountable to ministers.

Theresa May, the home secretary, announced the move on Friday following two reviews, as well as demands made by the influential home affairs select committee, to strip the Passport Office of its agency status.

The decision means that HM Passport Office (HMPO) will cease to be an executive agency from 1 October. Paul Pugh, the current chief executive, has effectively been sacked, remaining in the role until a successor – in the form of a director general – is appointed.

The Home Office last year cut several passport offices within foreign embassies at an annual saving of £20m and moved the work to centres in Liverpool, Durham and Belfast. The decision was also intended to boost security, as it was considered too risky to send blank passport books abroad.

But there followed a series of problems within the offices which the government and the agency attempted to deny. Thousands of people applying for passports began experiencing delays as they tried to book summer holidays.

The problems came to a head on 11 June when pictures were leaked to the Guardian showing a backlog of tens of thousands of applications that had been stacked in a conference room.

It also emerged, in documents leaked to this paper, that the agency had asked staff to relax security checks on passport applications to speed up the process – a revelation that prompted the direct intervention of May.

Keith Vaz, the chair of the home affairs select committee (HASC), which cross-examined Pugh in June when the chief executive was still denying there was a backlog, welcomed the decision.

“Delighted that the home secretary has accepted the HASC recommendation and abolished the agency status of the Passport Office,” he wrote on Twitter.

At its peak in late June, there were 537,663 outstanding applications. May introduced a number of emergency measures to tackle the backlog, which is now around 80,000.

She said: “As the events of the summer showed, it is essential that HMPO is run as efficiently as possible and is as accountable as possible.”

The timing of May’s announcement – on the day parliament has been recalled to debate air strikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq – has led to allegations that she was attempting to “bury bad news”.

Pugh sent a message to staff on Friday morning saying he “took responsibility” for this year’s problems within the Passport Office and confirmed that he would not be seeking the role of director general.

“This year has been hugely challenging for us, and as CEO, I take responsibility for what happened. Having met my commitment to lead the organisation through its toughest period, I have decided to step aside,” he said.

The PCS union, which represents HMPO staff, said on Twitter: “Cynical and shameless move by @ukhomeoffice to announce the Passport Office move minutes before parliamentary debate on Iraq.”

A spokesman for the PCS said ministers must address shortfalls in staffing, deliver equal pay with other Home Office staff and ensure further work would not be privatised or outsourced. He urged ministers not to try to deal with backlogs by redeploying staff from other areas and offices, risking causing crises elsewhere a few months later.

The PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, said: “Despite the cynical timing of the announcement, clearly designed to bury an awkward issue, we welcome this if it will mean we get the staff we need to provide a quality service under public control.

“Instead of the short-term measures we’ve seen, we want to sit down and negotiate a long-term solution to staffing to ensure the crisis we saw this summer is not repeated in future.”

Last week the report by MPs on the select committee recommended that the Passport Office should lose its agency status.

It was a mistake to close overseas passport application centres and replace them with a centralised UK service in Britain, the report said.

The decision, sanctioned by ministers, had played a critical role in the delays, and the reorganisation had been “poorly handled”, it said.

The Home Office is yet to explain whether the reorganisation will address this problem.

The MPs’ report also said they were concerned that a number of travellers had ended up out of pocket because of the delays and called for compensation.

Many applicants had been forced to pay extra fees to speed up the passport process while others had to pay charges to alter flight bookings, or even miss their holidays altogether.

Pugh was given a torrid cross-examination by the committee in June. He told MPs he considered resigning over the delays fiasco but decided instead to see the agency through “tough times”. Pugh, who earns £104,000 a year, at first denied there was a backlog but apologised to customers whose applications had been delayed.

Sep 22, 2014 - Business Permit    No Comments

AfriForum calls for immigration rules review

September 17 2014 at 09:56pm
By SAPA – INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

Johannesburg – AfriForum on Wednesday welcomed the delay in implementing two of the new immigration regulations on travelling minors, but it still wants an overall review.

The overall review would not only focus on human trafficking but also on the promotion of well-managed immigration and the interests of the tourism industry, spokeswoman Sue-Ann de Wet said in a statement.

AfriForum recognised that human trafficking was a serious problem, and with that being said, tourism was also an important industry in South Africa. It ensured income from foreign countries and created jobs.

“South Africa is a tourist attraction that faces many challenges such as crime, the fact that it is no longer as cheap to visit the country as it was in the past, and that it is situated far from other continents,” De Wet said.

“Thus, long expensive trips are required to visit the country. Therefore it must be made easy for the bona fide tourist to enter the country, but also for the local tourist to travel to foreign countries.”

Where immigration was concerned, significant regulations were important.

“South Africa faces various shortcomings when it comes to skills, and if the tourist gets put off by unreasonable regulations, immigrants will too,” she said.

“AfriForum suggests that all regulations be reviewed properly to accommodate all important roleplayers.”

These included tourism operators, airlines, migration specialists and foreign affairs, who should be involved in the review by the home affairs department to find practical solutions.

“Currently, the department is not concerned with these roleplayers,” said De Wet.

“AfriForum wants to work together as partners instead of frequently considering legal action and mobilisation.”

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba on Tuesday announced that the implementation of two of the new immigration regulations on travelling minors would again be delayed, this time until June 1, 2015.

The new regulations include that parents travelling with a child had to have an unabridged birth certificate. The requirements become more onerous for single parents travelling with a child, or adults travelling with a child not their own.

The regulations had been due to take effect on July 1 but sparked widespread complaints. Parents protested it could take up to a year to obtain an unabridged birth certificate from home affairs.

The department then granted a three-month reprieve and set October 1 as the new implementation date.

Sapa

Sep 3, 2014 - General, Visa, Work Permit    No Comments

More SA engineers needed to improve social welfare – Pandor

Chanel de Bruyn

South Africa did not produce enough graduate engineers, which was worrying, as good engineering made a significant contribution to social welfare, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said on Monday.

Speaking at the official opening the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Africa Engineering Week at the University of Johannesburg, the Minister noted that South Africa only had about 1 500 engineering graduates a year, of which, on average, only half went on to practice engineering.

Pandor stated that, according to a study by the South African Institute of Civil Engineering, South Africa had fewer engineers than doctors, which was generally the case in developing countries. However, in the developed world, this situation was reversed, showing the link between engineering and social welfare.

“If you have a lot of engineers, you create the conditions for fewer health problems. There is an important link between infrastructure and social health. For example, more and better housing means healthier communities, more roads [and] public transport infrastructure means the greater the ability of workers to travel to workplaces.

“Better access, better hospitals, more hospitals [and] more clinics mean a greater ability to access quality healthcare,” she explained, stating that all of these facilities and infrastructure were provided by engineers.

She added that, should South Africa continue to have inadequate infrastructure, its health challenges would increasingly become worse.

Therefore, Pandor believed South Africa had to quadruple its yearly number of engineering graduates.

“The shortage of engineering professionals means that we don’t have enough practitioners available for ongoing work. And that work that requires engineering decisions is being done without competent engineering input,” she said, stating that she believed that recent building collapses were related to the lack of engineers.

She added that, by not dealing with the engineering skills shortage, the country was also preventing itself from stopping the decline in the labour market.

“Because if we have more engineers, we would have more project managers that can oversee large construction projects,” she said, adding that South Africa also had to ensure that it had enough engineers in the mining and construction sectors to support growth in these key areas.

Further, the Minister noted that significant projects, such as the Square Kilometre Array, would not succeed without the adequate availability of local engineers.

Pandor also called on scholars to work hard at maths and science while still at school to enable them to pursue a career in engineering, stating that “the future character of South Africa relies on your love of maths and science”.

Sep 2, 2014 - General, Visa    No Comments

Detention of migrants at Lindela is unlawful

Sapa | 28 August, 2014 Times Live

 

The High Court in Johannesburg has ruled that the detention of migrants at the Lindela Repatriation Centre is unlawful and unconstitutional, the SA Human Rights Commission said on Thursday.

“The SAHRC welcomes the judgment handed over by the South Gauteng High Court in a matter relating to the illegal detention of immigrants against the department of home affairs,” said spokesman Isaac Mangena.

He said the court declared judgment in favour of the commission, People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression and Poverty (Passop), and 39 individuals who were detained at Lindela.

The SAHRC and other applicant organisations argued that Lindela’s practices regarding detention at the facility were unconstitutional and in contravention of the Immigration Act 13 of 2002.

Lindela in Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg, is the only facility of its kind in South Africa where illegal migrants are detained while awaiting deportation.

Mangena said the individuals in this matter had been subject to inhumane treatment, including being detained for longer than 30 days without the necessary warrant of a magistrate permitting extended detention, experiencing a miscalculation by the department of home affairs of the start of the 30-day period of detention, the failure of Lindela officials to follow fair procedure, and keeping the migrants in detention for longer than 120 days.

“The court ordered Lindela Repatriation Centre to, without delay, cease all practices that result in non-compliance with the Immigration Act, such as those experienced by the individuals in this matter.

“It further ordered that Lindela allow the SAHRC access to the facility on a regular basis and that regular reports on the number and status of detainees at Lindela be issued.”

In particular the court ordered that the department of home affairs ensure that no person was detained for a period exceeding 30 days from the date on which that person was first arrested.

“The SAHRC sees this as a victory for migrants in South Africa. This re-affirms our commitment to protecting the rights of vulnerable members of our communities, including those coming from outside, and serves as a stern warning to the department of home affairs to consistently comply with the rights of detainees,” he said.

Press release: LHR challenges constitutionality of detention procedures at Lindela Repatriation Centre

Lawyers for Human Rights is challenging the constitutionality of the procedures and safeguards governing the detention of people suspected of being illegal foreigners under the Immigration Act and the new Immigration Regulations at the Lindela Repatriation Centre near Krugersdorp.

LHR has grown increasingly alarmed at serious constitutional difficulties with both the legislation concerned and the manner in which it is implemented. LHR has been monitoring immigration detention with the aim of providing assistance to unlawfully detained persons for more than 15 years. We are intricately aware of the challenges faced by these individuals in enforcing their rights and intend by this action to give voice to those difficulties.

The Immigration Act allows for the detention pending deportation of an illegal foreigner for a maximum of 120 days. A provision of the Act entitles the Home Affairs Department to detain a person for up to 30 days without a warrant. If they intend to  extend the detention, they need to apply in advance for an extension of the warrant  from the magistrate’s court. Unfortunately, the Act does not require that detainees have the lawfulness of their detention automatically confirmed by a court at the beginning of their detention. Instead, detainees need to request that their matter be brought before a magistrate and this process is rarely followed in practice.

LHR contends that this practice is unconstitutional as each detainee should automatically have the lawfulness of his or her detention confirmed by a court and in person as with any other detainee.

At present, immigration detentions are extended  without the detainee appearing before the magistrate in person. Without the chance to challenge their detention, there is a real likelihood that they will continue to be unlawfully detained. LHR contends that this should not be allowed, as it is only through physical presence that a magistrate can make an accurate and just finding. By appearing in person during warrant proceedings, the magistrate is able to explain the process and inform the detainee of their rights, detainees are able to seek legal representation, the magistrate is able to get a more detailed account of the person’s circumstances, the magistrate is able to detect and correct obvious oversights including unaccompanied children that have been recorded as adults but are clearly younger than 18-years-old; and observe the physical well-being of the detainee and the need for medical attention. Relying on immigration officers to perform these functions has proven to be an inadequate protection against unlawful detention.

Very few detainees are aware of their rights while in detention.

According to the report “Lost in the Vortex”, only 53% of respondents were told that they were being detained as an illegal foreigner before being sent to Lindela. Of those, 90% received no written notification of their legal status on their application for a permit and 84% said they did not receive information regarding their right to appeal the decision declaring them an illegal foreigner. 94% were not told anything about their rights regarding the deportation process. Detainees lack access to trained immigration officials who would be able to provide correct information.

It is also a requirement that a detainee’s rights be communicated in a language that they understand but this service is not provided at Lindela. Even if a detainee secures legal representation, they are severely hampered from communicating with them.

Failing to follow correct procedures is a costly error. According to Dr Roni Amit of the African Centre for Migration and Society’s report “Breaking the Bank”, Home Affairs spent approximately R4.7-million between 2009 and 2010 on 90 of LHR’s cases alone. These cases dealt with unlawful detentions.

LHR sought to remedy the situation through its submissions to the new immigration regulations, but the regulations pertaining to detention remained largely unchanged.  LHR is challenging existing legislation to ensure that detainees automatically have the lawfulness of their detention confirmed by a court and that detainees appear in person during warrant proceedings.

Sep 2, 2014 - General, Visa, Visitors Permit    No Comments

Kenya to Resolve Visa Row With SA

Allafrica.com – 27 August 2014

Nairobi — Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed has said the government is working to resolve the diplomatic spat with South Africa over visa restrictions by the end of September.

Mohamed revealed that she will travel to South Africa next month to hold discussions with the South African government to ensure the two countries have fair visa regimes. She noted that if the tensions continued it would hurt the economic relationship between the two countries.

“The meeting is scheduled before the United Nations General Assembly – not after or during – because the intention of the government is to get a clear direction by the end of September,” Mohamed said on Wednesday morning during a media briefing on the status of Kenya’s economic diplomacy.

If the discussions don’t bear fruit, she added, Kenya will go ahead and impose its visa restrictions on South Africans which were announced in April and were to take effect on September 1.

“They will either have to remove the restrictions they have placed on us so that we are at the same level or we are going to impose the exact requirements that they require of us,” Mohamed emphasised.

The Kenyan government has recently received heavy criticism from its concerned citizens after it suspended its visa restrictions against South Africa which were to come into effect in July this year.

But Mohamed maintained that the move was to allow visitors from South African who had made their travel arrangements way before the new rules were imposed by Kenya, to travel with ease.

“It was a group of professionals who had planned to travel to Kenya nine months ago. They had done everything, paid for their travel, tickets, and it was a big group. Tourism players requested that we allow them in because of the current drop in the industry, as we continue with our talks,” she clarified.

“These people were actually coming in this last week and this week during the migration (at the Maasai Mara).”

Kenya introduced the strict visa rules on the principle of reciprocity after South Africa overhauled its visa applications regime in December last year.

Both countries have their visa regulations drawing a clear distinction between short-stay visas and long-stay permanent residence permits.

At the moment a Kenyan applying for a South African visa of up to 30 days stay is required to pay at least Sh5,800 as ‘service charge’ and up to Sh12,000 for a visa of more than 30 days.

On the other hand if Kenya imposes its requirements, South Africans will also pay up to Sh6,000 for a 30-day visa, among their restrictions. They will also be required to make a physical appearance at the Kenyan embassy.

Earlier on, Kenyans would get a free visa if they were staying for less than 30 days in South Africa but required no visa if they were transiting through any South African airports while South Africans did not require a visa for a 30-day stay in Kenya.

Sep 2, 2014 - Business Permit    No Comments

South Africa urged to introduce e-visas

Aug 30, 2014

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – The Democratic Alliance launched a petition on Friday urging the tourism and home affairs ministries to introduce electronic visas (e-visas) for tourists.

The DA wanted both ministries to introduce regulations that would pave the way for tourist e-visas so that jobs in South Africa could be saved, tourism spokesperson James Vos said in a statement.

“A study commissioned by the Tourism and Business Council of SA on the impact of the new immigration regulations indicates that the country may lose 270 000 international tourists.”

This would in turn see 21 000 jobs lost annually due to the regulations, costing South Africa R9.7-billion.

South Africa’s new immigration regulations introduce a new visa regime. The regulations draw a clear distinction between short-stay visas and long-stay permanent residence permits.

They stipulate that visa applications need to be made by applicants in person, and those wanting to change the status of their visa can no longer do so in South Africa but at missions abroad.

Vos said visitors to South Africa needing to apply for their visas in person was an additional and unnecessary travel expense for those who did not live near South African embassies, consulates or visa centres.

Some potential visitors did not live in countries with these facilities at all.

“Reports from China, one of South Africa’s largest tourism markets, confirmed that marketing packages relating to South African tourist destinations will come to an end by October 1 this year due to this added difficulty.”

This was a serious blow to South Africa’s tourism industry and would condemn many South Africans to joblessness, without the hope of finding new employment.

“Tourism has been identified in the National Development Plan as a key job driver for our economy. Currently, tourism supports one in every 12 jobs in South Africa,” Vos said.

Introducing e-visas would protect jobs and present “significant advantages” by reducing the turnaround times for issuing travel documents.

Vos said e-visas were also more secure than existing permits.

“Electronic visas have proven to be highly effective in comparable countries such as Turkey,” he said.

“The DA has therefore launched this online petition for all South Africans and those abroad to register their disapproval of these destructive new regulations, and to express support for our proposal to institute electronic visas.”

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