Me working here was our only lifeline: December 2022 deadline looms for Zimbabwean Exemption Permit holders

News24 23 June 2022

“New immigration policy undoubtedly intends to crack down on foreign nationals unlawfully working in South Africa.”

  • The new immigration policy undoubtedly intends to crack down on foreign nationals unlawfully working in South Africa.
  • Zimbabwean domestic workers and labourers without proper work permits will face deportation by the end of the year.
  • We chat with a legal professional to understand what this policy is about, how it will affect ZEP holders, and what it will do for South Africa’s economy.

The South African government has said that Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) holders must find alternative ways to stay in South Africa legally by 31 December 2022.

Only Zimbabweans with a Visa Facilitation Services (VFS) Global receipt to show that they have applied for an alternate visa can continue working, studying, and using banks.

Unfortunately, the situation will be very bleak for Zimbabwean labourers, construction workers, e-hailing drivers, gardeners, and domestic workers because they will not qualify for the other visas in the Immigration Act, such as permanent residence, study visa, and critical skills visas as they do not fall under these categories.

‘Children attending school in SA’

One concerned father said he came to South Africa in 2011. He has two children with South African women. The two children are attending school in South Africa, and he is financially responsible for them. Should he be deported, the children would be at risk of dropping out of school and living in extreme poverty.

The father said he tried to apply for a critical skills work visa and registered with the SA Body of Natural Sciences and the South African Qualifications Authority, but didn’t get approval because he didn’t have the required years of work experience.

‘Their contribution to society remains unrecognised’ Ramaphosa praises domestic workers

Speaking at a Cosatu women’s event in Ekurhuleni, ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa praised domestic workers for their role in the country, saying that more needs to be done to ensure their rights are protected, and they receive decent wages.

Deportation will devastate family

A mom who wanted to remain anonymous and works as a childminder told us she was devastated when she heard the news that Zimbabweans without a proper work permit would be deported.

“I support three children in Zimbabwe. I am also supporting my mother financially as she has health challenges. Me working here was our only lifeline, and I am very worried.”

To understand what this policy is about, how it will affect ZEP holders in South Africa, and why it is necessary, News24 spoke to Bernard Reisner, a labour and industrial consultant at Cape Labour & Industrial Consultants, a law firm based in Cape Town.

‘First comprehensive national policy’

“The Draft National Labour Migration Policy (NLMP) is the first comprehensive national policy on South Africa’s labour migration management,” said Reisner.

He said the policy sought to achieve a “brain gain” through skills entering the country and counter a “brain drain” through skills leaving the country.

“The NLMP has been created to make it legal for the government to regulate the employment of foreign nationals in South Africa,” Reisner added.

Why implement such a policy?

This comprehensive labour migration policy was implemented because South Africa was the most prominent host of foreign nationals when compared to other African countries.

The draft policy will attempt to put more power in the hands of the Department of Employment and Labour, rather than Home Affairs, to govern and manage labour migration.

“Historically, Home Affairs has been the main administrative authority, with the Department of Employment and Labour acting mostly in an advisory capacity,” explained Reisner.

The policy stated that it would make labour migration more beneficial to the South African economy through interventions that would attract and retain skills in the country.

‘Enforcing the policy is key’

Reisner said the draft policy was undoubtedly aimed at cracking down on foreign nationals unlawfully working in South Africa.

“Writing a policy is one aspect, and implementing it is another. South Africa does not have a great track record for enforcing the existing labour and migration laws,” said Reisner.

However, the NLMP policy has not yet been set in stone. 

“It still needs to go through a parliamentary process that will likely take a lengthy time,” he added.

Foreign nationals urged to get registered and stay away from criminal activities

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Fine or imprisonment

But he cautioned that an employer who knowingly employed a foreign national who did not possess a valid work permit, could be fined or face imprisonment of up to one year for a first offence.

“It should be noted that even if a domestic worker does not have a valid work permit, they still enjoy all the rights afforded by labour legislations such as the Labour Relations Act, Employment Equity Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act,” he elaborated.

“Once the NLMP is made known, it shall reaffirm that a domestic worker/nanny who is a foreign national employed in South Africa, without a relevant work permit, shall not be entitled to continue working legally in South Africa,” Reisner said.

“A domestic worker does not fall within the ambit of critical skills to perform their work. As a result hereof, persons employed in this sector can be sourced by South African citizens to meet South Africa’s labour market needs”.

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