Archive from April, 2020

Covid-19: home affairs outlines measures to deal with immigration, work visas

The department of home affairs has outlined temporary measures regarding visas and permanent residence permits during the lockdown.
Image: Alaister Russell

People whose visas to work, study or conduct business in SA expired during the Covid-19 lockdown will not be penalised, home affairs said on Tuesday.

This also applies to people who submitted their applications before the lockdown, with the outcome pending.

This is among temporary visa measures for foreign nationals legally in SA which will remain valid until July 31 unless extended officially by the department.

During the lockdown, except for cases relating to expatriation initiated by their home countries, all foreign nationals who are currently in SA may not depart the country.

Expiry of visas

Holders of temporary residence visas which expired from mid-February, who did not renew their visas before the lockdown, will not be declared illegal or prohibited persons.

Any person whose visa expired before or during the lockdown will not be arrested nor detained for holding an expired visa.

Those who opt to return to their countries of origin or residence after the lockdown, instead of renewing their visas, will not be declared undesirable upon departure.

Visa application and adjudication

During the lockdown, the department is not receiving or adjudicating applications for visas and permanent residence permits.

Foreign nationals whose visas expired after February 15 may reapply for their respective visas or relevant visa exemptions while in SA immediately after the lockdown has been lifted. They will not be required to apply for authorisation to remain in the country. Those with expired visas from the same date who had scheduled appointments on dates which fall within the lockdown period should reschedule their appointments to an available date after the lockdown has been lifted, the department advised.

Lesotho exemption permit

Holders of the Lesotho Special Permit have up to June 15 to submit their applications for an exemption permit.

Expiry of asylum seeker permits

Any asylum seeker whose visa expired from March 16 to the end of the lockdown will not be penalised or arrested provided they legalise their visa within 30 calendar days of the lockdown being lifted.

www.samigration.com

Channelling customer expectations through WhatsApp

Markets are noisy and busy. Companies are clamouring for customer attention and their share of wallet and engagement. It has become increasingly important for organisations to make connections with their customers, to create personal environments from which they can interact with brands and build relationships. The challenge is finding the right channels and ensuring that those channels are validated, secure and relevant.

WhatsApp provides the ability to infuse brand personality into B2C communication, enabling businesses to engage with their customers on a more personal level. This channel has more potential than email or SMS to increase trust and brand loyalty because it’s accessible, popular and relevant to the South African consumer.

WhatsApp has become the most popular mobile messenger app in the world with more than two billion monthly active users in more than 180 countries. South Africans make up around 38 million of those two billion users which makes the platform one of the most accessible and ubiquitous in the country. According to Digital 2020: South Africa, a report developed by HootSuite, 62% of the South African population is on the internet, 94% of those are engaged on social media, and most of them use WhatsApp. .

With the lockdown in South Africa in full effect, many are turning to online communities to stay updated and share in each other’s concerns…
If you compare these numbers to email, it rapidly shows how relevant WhatsApp has become a method of communication for the business. Many people in South Africa don’t have access to or are not active on, email, which makes WhatsApp a far more accessible and relevant choice.

What do customers want?

The 2019 South African Digital Customer Experience Report analysed South African consumer behaviour to find out what people want when it comes to service, experiences and brands. The upshot was that they wanted seamless self-service channels, better information, and someone to help them when they got stuck. Customers want on-demand support that’s relevant to their needs and don’t expect them to wait for hours, listen to bad music or get transferred around the call centre.

Incorporating WhatsApp into the business via the contact centre is the perfect way to do this.

It seems like the script for an apocalyptic movie, but none of us will even be venturing into cinemas – until much later in 2020, at least – as much of the world as we know it is in lockdown. Here’s how the #lockdown is affecting brand and consumer behaviour alike within our borders…

Thanks to the metrics built into the contact centre technology, all WhatsApp messages and handling times are recorded. There is full visibility into how the company and contact centre agents are performing across all channels.

If agents are currently replying to customer queries via phones or the WhatsApp web application, these interactions are completely isolated from the rest of the contact centre. Agents, therefore, have no context into customer queries, there is no visibility into interactions, and agent performance is left unchecked. Without any form of measurement across all contact channels, this is bound to result in a bad customer experience and gives no opportunity for business growth, identifying problems or monitoring changes over time.

Available to serve

While businesses can use WhatsApp to provide instant responses to customer queries, chatbot functionality can also be added to the channel, opening up additional self-service opportunities.

There is an ever-growing number of business use cases for introducing self-service options via WhatsApp. People think about chatbots in isolation, but they can be leveraged through a channel like WhatsApp to field repetitive customer queries, such as opening times or product availability.

This provides a win-win situation for everyone – customers are able to quickly get the answers they need when they need them, while contact centres are improving their CX, reducing the cost of service, and freeing up their agents to handle more complex queries.

It is also important for any business onboarding WhatsApp to select the most relevant use case that will provide the most significant business benefit and then focus on doing that extremely

In a time of business unusual, how do marketing agencies remain relevant to their clients? Lauren Crooks, lead strategist of Coalition Communications shares insights on the topic…

Rather than trying to do too much via the channel and diluting the customer experience, it’s vital to utilise it in a way that makes sense for the channel and ultimately makes it easier for the customer.

Relevant customer engagement

While WhatsApp can be used to send updates on applications, deliveries or other important information through notifications, it also provides an opportunity for enhanced real-time engagement and on-the-spot resolution.

WhatsApp’s ubiquity means that any customer-facing organisation can leverage it to provide richer customer engagements – from sending boarding passes and sharing verification codes to accepting contract information, the channel can be used to help customers instantly and effectively.

Up until now, businesses have been able to use WhatsApp to communicate with customers, but only in an ad hoc way, and without proper measurement and reporting. Once it is being managed in the same way as other customer contact channels, you will be able to identify more ways to use WhatsApp to improve the performance of your business.

Mkhuseli Vangile, MD of DCF PR and marketing agency suggests that PR be approached in a creative way by utilising 5 key elements in digital PR…

Ultimately WhatsApp plays a significant role in creating customer communications that are relevant, accessible and targeted. If incorporated into your entire customer communications strategy, this messenger app allows for deeper control over customer engagement, taking you one step closer to providing the type of on-demand support that customers want and need.

www.vsoftsytems.co.za

Coronavirus uncertainty affects asylum seekers

The Department of Home Affairs has not confirmed the measures that have been put in place to deal with the arrival of asylum seekers,)

Fears around the spread of the coronavirus have led to the South African government taking the extraordinary step of closing 35 of the country’s 72 ports of entry. After President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster on March 15, some refugee reception offices have apparently also suspended issuing and renewing asylum permits while their staff wait to receive protective gear.

A number of migrant and non-governmental organisations that help asylum seekers have reported anecdotal incidents of these offices, including the ones in Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Durban, not accepting new applicants.

The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town and the Nelson Mandela Refugee Rights Centre in Port Elizabeth say they have heard of asylum seekers being told that the refugee reception offices in these cities won’t be taking new applicants until staff members have been supplied with masks, gloves and hand sanitisers.

The Department of Home Affairs has not confirmed the measures that have been put in place to deal with the arrival of asylum seekers, with phone calls and WhatsApp messages to the minister’s spokesperson, Siya Qoza, and the department’s media manager, David Hlabane, going unanswered.

Linton Harmse, director of the Refugee Rights Centre, said the closure of these offices could have a severely negative impact on new asylum applicants as well as existing asylum seekers in South Africa wanting to renew their permits.

“The impact will be wide. If you have a bank account and your permit expires, the day it expires your bank account is frozen. It will only be opened again if you come with a new permit. So if you don’t get the new permit in that week or the next month, you will be without your money,” he said.

“You won’t have access to your funds. Obviously, you would not be able to buy food, pay school fees, buy sanitiser, go to the doctor. You know everything costs money. That is one of the immediate ways it will impact asylum seekers.

“That is if you are already documented,” Harmse continued. “There are hundreds of asylum seekers who have not been documented yet. They are given an appointment in 30 days’ time. They come then and are just given another 30 days. They are not seen because [home affairs] does not have staff capacity.”

Harmse warned that asylum seekers could either remain undocumented or lose their legal status if their permits expire and they are unable to renew them because of coronavirus-related delays.

Closed borders not the answer

Jean Bwasa, chairperson of The Right to Live and a leader of the Congolese community in Johannesburg, said he is worried about asylum seekers. “It will have a negative impact on new applicants who are already in the country because they will become illegal. Closing the borders is a good thing in that each and every country wants to protect its citizens, but it goes against the goals to have a borderless Africa.

“There are still countries in Africa where there is conflict and war. We need to think of strategies other than closing the borders,” he said.

Sally Gandar, head of advocacy and legal adviser at the Scalabrini Centre, said the closure of ports of entry is a concern. “We call on the government to ensure that the manner of implementation does not violate South Africa’s obligations in terms of international and domestic law and the principle of non-refoulement.”

Non-refoulement is a principle under international human rights law which guarantees that no person be returned to a country where they may face persecution or harm.

“In addition, if [refugee reception offices] are not accepting new asylum applications, which would mean the asylum applicant does not adhere to the five-day requirement in asylum transit visas, the [department] must ensure that there is a general amnesty from strict adherence to those provisions during this time,” Gandar said. “This would be the correct and sensible strategy to take to ensure protection of all persons within South Africa, and better public health outcomes.

“Now, more than ever, the department needs to communicate more effectively and urgently with this population. The implications of ignoring or continuing to treat this part of our population as invisible will be felt by all persons in South Africa. Health, and by implication illness, knows no borders and a virus does not stop and ask for an individual’s immigration status prior to being transmitted. Vulnerable populations need to be specifically addressed and catered for in the government’s response. Failure to do this would simply mean that the response is not a comprehensive one.”

Overcrowding a concern

Michael Clements, acting national director of Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), called for a moratorium on the detention and deportation of migrants as well as unnecessary arrests and detention for Schedule 1 offences.

“Detained individuals in overcrowded detention centres such as Lindela Repatriation [Centre], police stations and remand prisons are at high risk of contracting and spreading the virus. These facilities are ill-equipped to deal with an outbreak of the disease. This is especially true in relation to the elderly and those suffering from chronic illnesses,” said Clements. “LHR further calls on the Department of Home Affairs to present its plan of action regarding the renewal of asylum seeker permits, considering the president’s prohibition on gatherings of more than 100 people.”

Gandar added: “We understand that at least two refugee reception offices, in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, are closed, apparently until the staff are provided with protective gear. We have also been told that the Durban office is no longer accepting new asylum applicants, only processing renewals.

“While gloves, masks and hand sanitiser may provide some protection to [department] staff members, it does not contain the spread from person to person … and so these types of measures would be wholly inadequate if they’re the only measure implemented.

“This is particularly evident when one considers that, on any single day, far more than 100 people try to access services at a refugee reception office. The president has prohibited gatherings of over 100 people and all non-essential travel. These prohibitions should also be implemented in a way that ensures that asylum seekers and refugees rights are respected, protected, promoted and fulfilled,” Gandar said.

Refugees in limbo

The International Organisation for Migration and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) have meanwhile announced that they would temporarily suspend the resettlement of refugees.

In a statement on the UNHCR’s website, the organisations said: “As countries drastically reduce entry into their territories owing to the Covid-19 global health crisis, and restrictions around international air travel are introduced, travel arrangements for resettling refugees are currently subject to severe disruptions. Some states have also placed a hold on resettlement arrivals given their public health situation, which impacts on their capacity to receive newly resettled refugees.

“Refugee families are being directly impacted by these quickly evolving regulations in the course of their travel, with some experiencing extensive delays while others have been stranded or separated from family members.”

During a press briefing on Tuesday, Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi spoke about the possibility of renewing long-term visas that are due to expire soon. He said the department would “very gladly renew visas” until July, but people would have to give a good reason for wanting to stay in South Africa. He said nothing about refugees or asylum seekers.

www.samigration.com

Rebuilding the post-pandemic economy

The Covid-19 pandemic is set to realign the world’s social and economic structure, and fundamentally change the way people work and interact, personally and professionally.

While the current social measures in place around the world are aimed at stemming the spread of the virus, there’s a good chance that there’ll be a residual adoption of elements of them as humanity adapts to ‘the new normal’ – because the world will fundamentally never be the same again.

Hundreds of thousands of people are set to lose their jobs as economies tank – but the optimistic view is that that’s an opportunity for the future, rather than the very real catastrophe it feels like at the moment – particularly in the SME space.

It’s a rare economic situation that sees major corporations struggling as much as SME’s, and the upshot is that people may have to create employment opportunities for themselves and others, rather than returning to the jobs they had before the pandemic.

“The world will need more entrepreneurs, whose smart ideas can help rebuild economies, create employment opportunities and re-establish – and rebuild – the livelihoods of entire communities,” says Charmaine Lambert of Absa’s WorkInProgress.

Time saving

Many have glibly asked ‘could that meeting have been an email?’ but the reality is that the working world is rapidly discovering the benefits of finding new ways to address business needs, that rely less on physical face-to-face interactions.

Catching up as a group on a Zoom meeting is important, but cutting out a commute, the niceties of the preamble to a meeting and repeating yourself for the guy who stumbled in five minutes late has made meetings more efficient and to-the-point.

Meetings won’t go away, because humans are collaborative. It takes one person to have a great idea, but it takes a team to realise and implement it – which is why co-working spaces will remain an important part of life for those taking up the challenge of employing themselves, and others by forming SME’s, in the new world order.

Decentralising operations

The shift in ways of working has also shown that decentralisation is possible – something that may become a necessity in the future. All those shiny offices in global centres are expensive line items on the annual budget, and since budgets are going to be way tighter – if not non-existent – in future, even SME’s may have to make peace with the fact that not everyone needs to share a space. And knowing what we know now about how easy it is to spread viruses in close-contact working spaces, there’s a convincing health argument for decentralisation, too.

If an SME team is driven enough, nobody will have to worry about clock-watching or ensuring that people are doing their jobs by having a manager stalking the halls and peering over cubicle walls. There will be essential functions that rely on being physically present in a space – but there’s no reason that different functions of a business can’t be split across different spaces, cities or even time zones to maximise efficiency and save costs.

And with the flexibility of working time now becoming an option across many industries, that demand will need to be catered for by SME’s and other employers, in the future.

Greener business

Building more efficient spaces has been an important global trend over the past few years as companies realise the impact their business has on the planet. What about the environmental cost of getting people to that office every day, and of business travel?

Cutting out the commute for the global workforce has already had a noticeable effect on the environment – fake-news dolphins in the canals of Venice, aside – so now that we’ve proven it’s possible to decentralise or work remotely, why not continue that?

Carbon monoxide emissions in New York have been slashed by 50% over the past few weeks – mostly on the back of reduced road traffic – and analysis by climate website Carbon Brief indicates that the shutdown in China has resulted in a 25% drop in energy use and emissions over a two week period at the height of the pandemic there, which is set to lead to an overall drop of 1% in the country’s carbon emissions for 2020.

As the industry ramps up again around the world, emissions will rise once more, but those numbers do illustrate the significant impact a reduction in worker commuting, can have for the planet.

4IR creating opportunities

While there’s plenty of concern that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is going to cost millions of jobs, it’s also set to deliver millions of opportunities and plenty of efficiencies.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can take over manual, repetitive tasks – but instead of making the people in those functions, redundant, it frees them up to tackle more important and non-automatable tasks which can improve business operations. The global economic crisis means that efficiency and multitasking are going to become the order of the day – something the lean SME space is used to, to an extent.

Embrace technology and let the people who are the heart of your business focus on helping you re-establish it and re-invent it. It’s time to innovate.

“While things are set to be very different, there’s a huge benefit to collaboration to establishing and maintaining a dynamic, agile business,” says Lambert.

“Entrepreneurs and innovators thrive off being able to kick around ideas, sense-check decisions with others and find ways for seemingly-unrelated companies to work together to deliver unprecedented opportunity – and there’s nothing the world is going to need more than opportunity, once we come out the other side of this

www.samigration.com

The cost of home fibre in SA may drop up to R200 per month thanks to a Telkom settlement

Telkom reached an agreement with the Competition Commission to cut the prices it charges internet service providers (ISPs) to use its network.
One technology analyst believes SA consumers can expect price cuts of between R100 to R200 on their monthly home-fibre bills as a result.
Just how much individuals save will depend on the rand amount Telkom implements.
South African home users of fibre optic internet connections may soon be paying between R100 and R200 less every month for that service after Telkom agreed to cut the prices it charges internet service providers (ISPs), a technology analyst said.

But just how much individuals save will depend on the rand amount decrease Telkom implements for its wholesale customers, including major ISPs such as Afrihost, Axxess, and MWeb.

Telkom owns the largest fibre optic network in the country. On Tuesday it and the Competition Commission announced an agreement for a “substantial reduction” in the rates it asks ISPs.

The agreement comes after the Competition Commission’s data services market inquiry report published in December, which has also forced Vodacom and MTN to drop data prices. The report found that Telkom’s Openserve unit charged “excessive pricing” for ISPs to use its wholesale and ADSL network.

Technology research company World Wide Worx’s Arthur Goldstuck said consumers can expect monthly savings on their ADSL and fibre bills which can range between R100 and R200, but there is some uncertainty on exactly how much end users will save.

“Internet providers also often absorbed the high prices Telkom charged to help minimise the effect to consumers,” he said.

The Competition Commission kept the exact amount Telkom charged ISPs confidential.

Goldstuck said he has seen instances where Telkom charged up to R135 per MB/s, compared to competitors who charged below R10 per MB/s.

“A couple of years ago Telkom was able to charge excessive fees for ISPs to use its copper network for ADSL, but this was basically killed off due to the limitations of copper and copper theft,” Goldstuck told Business Insider South Africa.

“We thought with the arrival of fibre we’d be freed of Telkom’s monopoly, but Telkom managed to develop the vastest fibre network in South Africa which forces ISP to still use it to reach consumers.”

That meant Telkom was still able to over-charge ISPs, he said.

The Competition Commissions’ Tembinkosi Bonakele said the agreement with Telkom will lead to lower prices for consumers, especially to small businesses who are increasingly reliant on fibre networks.

Two British citizens who allegedly sped over SA border now in quarantine, case postponed

The case against two British citizens who allegedly deliberately ignored border officials and sped off into South Africa from Eswatini on Saturday was postponed to 30 April in the Durban Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

James Hackett and Erken Bali have been placed in quarantine for 14 days following their arrest by members of the South African Police Service’s Vehicle Crime Investigation Unit and Tracker Connect officials at a guest house in Glenmore, Durban, on Sunday.

They were not present in court in keeping with Department of Health Regulation 11(6)(d), said KwaZulu-Natal National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Natasha Ramkissoon-Kara.

National police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo earlier told News24 that Hackett and Bali had allegedly driven from Eswatini. He said when they arrived at the Golela border post on Saturday, they were denied entry into South Africa and were told to return to Eswatini.

“The suspects instead disregarded the order and drove off at high speed into South Africa and evaded the police who had given chase,” Naidoo said.

“Investigations are being continued for possible further charges against the two suspects as they have not paid the rental company for continued use of the vehicle, and also possible violation of the Immigration Act.”

The two were facing charges of entering and remaining in the republic without authority and entering the country under lockdown when the border was closed to visitors.

The 42-year-old manager of the guest house was also arrested for the violation of Covid-19 regulations and detained at a local police station. The rental vehicle was impounded.

www.samigration.com

Government takes another look at partnership visas

directed his officials to come up with a solution so Indians aren’t unfairly excluded from receiving partnership visas.

The intervention has come after mounting anger and frustration from the Kiwi-Indian community at recent policy changes with some even walking away from the Labour Party.

In recent months, Immigration NZ adopted a tougher stance on the partnership visa category, insisting that couples have spent time living together in order to be eligible.

That makes it much more difficult for those in culturally-arranged marriages to bring their spouses to New Zealand.

Speaking to RNZ, Mr Lees-Galloway said the department had been “lawfully correct” to shift its approach to more strictly align with government policy.

But he said the change had clearly left many people, particularly Kiwi-Indians, worse off and prompted concern from community leaders and MPs.

Mr Lees-Galloway said, as such, he’d contacted Immigration New Zealand and asked it to consider other options “as soon as possible”.

“I’ve asked them to look at what is possible and to come back with options on how we can ensure that people who are in genuine, culturally arranged marriages have the opportunity to bring their partner to New Zealand,” he said.

“We value the Kiwi-Indian community. They make an enormous contribution to our society, to our communities, and to our economy. And I am hopeful that Immigration New Zealand will be able to find a solution.”

Prior to its shift in approach, Immigration NZ would grant general visitor visas to couples in arranged marriages to allow them to live together in New Zealand before applying under the partnership category.

But Mr Lees-Galloway said he doubted officials would simply revert to that position as they felt that contravened government policy.

Asked whether the government could just change its policy or instructions, Mr Lees-Galloway said that would take “quite some time”.

“I don’t think that that is what people are looking for. They’re looking for a faster solution than that.”

Sher Singh – who quit his Labour membership last month in protest of the policy – said Mr Lees-Galloway’s words gave him a glimmer of hope, but just that.

“There’s a difference between saying and doing,” he told RNZ.

“I want to see something solid … if there’s a plan in place and we see that in writing, then, yes, maybe I might think of going back [to Labour], but I can’t promise that.”

Immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont said Immigration NZ should never have changed its approach and it had taken too long for the minister to step in.

“Why has it taken a month? Well, it’s been because of the communities who have been lobbying their MPs, it’s because of the media running news stories.

“Do we need to wait for that to happen before the minister realises that his department [has] made a stuff-up?”

Mr McClymont said all the cases which had been declined over the past month should also now be reviewed and reconsidered.

New Zealand First likely would also act as a roadblock to any formal shift in policy as its leader Winston Peters recently old RNZ his party had influenced the tougher approach.

Speaking from Japan, Mr Peters said he’d hold off commenting in detail until after talking directly with Mr Lees-Galloway.

But he suggested any change in Immigration NZ’s approach would need to be signed off by his party.

“Until we see what that so-called ‘solution’ is and approve it, it will not be a fact,” Mr Peters told RNZ.

NZ First MP Shane Jones prompted outrage last month when he said Indian activists could “atch the next flight home” if they were not happy with the country’s immigration rules.

Mr Lees-Galloway declined to say whether Mr Jones’ remarks were appropriate or helpful.

“I’m not responsible for Shane Jones. He has to take responsibility for his own comments. But this government absolutely values the contribution that the Kiwi-Indian community makes to New Zealand.”

www.samigration.com

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