Ramaphosa signs ‘debt relief bill’

President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed into law the controversial National Credit Amendment Bill which is geared to provide relief to over-indebted consumers.
The legislation, also known as the “Debt Intervention Bill”, will enable low-income workers to extract themselves from debt through a process of debt restructuring if they earn a gross income of R7 500 or less per month, have unsecured debt of R50 000, or have been found to be critically indebted, but fears have been raised that it could in fact drive up the cost of loans and limit access to credit.
One of the clauses on the bill require debt counsellors to report suspected reckless lending, in an attempt to discourage registered financial service providers from engaging in reckless extension of credit.
The controversial bill also allow intervention for over-indebted consumers earning R7 500 per month or less. The first step in the intervention process involves debt restructuring, giving consumers five years to pay their debt, as well as the extinguishing of debt.
In September, the chairperson of Parliament’s trade and industry committee Joanmariae Fubbs, explained that debt will only be extinguished for those seeking relief after all other measures have been exhausted.
South African consumers are currently battling the effects of the tough economic climate and rising unemployment, which has hit savings.

3 ways South Africans are moving to the United States

More South Africans are emigrating to the United States (US) in search of a better lifestyle and job opportunities.
According to data provided by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, between 2015 and 2017 around 10,200 South Africans obtained permanent resident status.
These include people who received a ‘green card’, were admitted as temporary nonimmigrants, granted asylum or refugee status, or were naturalised.
This number has continued to slowly increase in recent years, with just under 70 South Africans leaving every week, or 9 people a day.
While many of these people will be families that emigrate together, there is growing concern that these South Africans are taking valuable skills with them.
The latest data shows that the largest number of visas are given to South Africans who are relatives of US citizens (around 40%).
This is followed by employment-based visas (29%) and the diversity visa programme – also known as the green card lottery (9%).
However, it is important to note that the green-card lottery is not open every year and is open to a small group of applicants.
Making the jump
The Department of Home Affairs does not keep record of South Africans who emigrate permanently; however, receiver countries do keep track of immigrants, which gives an indication of how many people are actually leaving.
According to this data, the United Kingdom remains the most popular destination for South African immigrants, followed by Australia, New Zealand and the USA.
This is backed up by surveys conducted by American think tank Pew Research, which found that there were at least 900,000 people born in South Africa living in other countries in 2017.
For these South Africans, the United Kingdom was the destination of choice, with 210,000 migrants as of 2017. However, it was closely followed by Australia (190,000) and the USA (100,000).

SA immigration laws should be relaxed to accommodate foreigners

JOHANNESBURG – The Forum for Immigration Practitioners of South Africa said government should relax immigration laws to make it easy for foreigners to be in the country legally.
Over 400 undocumented foreigners were arrested in Johannesburg this past week.
This came after police raided the city centre on Wednesday, confiscating counterfeit goods and unlicensed firearms.
The forum’s Gerson Mosiane said it’s currently very difficult for foreigners to obtain the necessary migration documents.
“What would alleviate the problem is for the immigration laws to be relaxed in order to accommodate foreigners without compromising the security if the country.”

It’s time to take tourism seriously – part 2

In part 1, Gillian Saunders shared some thoughts on how tourism can boost employment and help strengthen South Africa’s struggling economy. In part 2, she lays out some ideas on how South Africa should restructure its visa system to realise more of its tourism potential. \
South Africa is often near the top on any rankings of most beautiful countries in the world, says Saunders. The country is also ‘underweight’ in many areas of tourism compared with similar nations, and, as a destination, Saunders says South Africa has undisputed competitive advantages.
All this means that there is huge potential for growth. But how does that potential become real? “The biggest growth market opportunities for us are India and China; they are the biggest and fastest growing outbound markets, and are also key markets on the rest of the continent,” says Saunders.

“The first really easy low-hanging fruit is to fast track a world-class online eVisa system. It must handle capacity, be easy to use, documentation requirements must not be onerous and the turn-around time should be quick,” she says, adding that AI algorithms, and not human review, should be used for most visa issuance. “And it must, as soon as possible, have interfaces in multiple languages, especially Mandarin.”
Saunders points out that if other low-income countries, such as Ethiopia and Vietnam, can manage an eVisa system like this, South Africa should be able to as well.
“And while we do that, another quick and immediate win is to recognise other visas like USA, Schengen, Australia, and the UK, the way many other countries do,” she says. “This will open up destination South Africa for many Indian, Chinese, Nigerian, and other visa-requiring markets overnight.”
Saunders says South Africa also needs a review of visa-requiring countries, taking particular account of those with tourism potential, and to drop in its entirety the reciprocity principle.
In July, the Department of Home Offices decided to scrap visa requirements for various countries, including New Zealand. Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Home Affairs, announced the changes at the 2019 Budget Vote. Motsoaledi also announced that Home Affairs would increase the number of staff working for the department by two-and-a-half times to process visas in both India and China. But as Saunders points out, the commitment was made to up the processing capacity “this financial year”, which could mean only by the end of March 2020.

It’s time to take tourism seriously

There is great potential for the tourism industry to boost South Africa’s economy, and help alleviate the high levels of unemployment. But for some reason, tourism as an industry is often overlooked as a serious economic sector. Gillian Saunders, who was Special Adviser to former Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom between April 2018 and May 2019, shares her thoughts.
South Africa’s unemployment rate hit 29% in the second quarter of 2019, an increase of 1.4 percentage points compared with the first quarter. The number of unemployed persons in the country has increased by 455 000 to 6.7m over the same period. This is according to the results of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey, released by Stats SA on July 31.
Despite this, tourism as a sector is often overlooked as being key to transforming South Africa’s economy. “Tourism is often misunderstood and underrated, both as an intrinsic sector with its own potential and as a lever for economic growth,” says Gillian Saunders, Tourism and Hospitality Adviser. She says this is because of the multi-faceted nature of tourism, which makes it harder to appreciate and quantify as a sector.
Saunders says it is worth keeping in mind that tourism is an export sector. “Tourism’s greatest areas of potential growth are in exports, and in bringing in more, higher spending overseas and African air tourists with their forex spending. Tourism imports high spending customers,” she says.
Tourism is also an ‘apex’ sector, Saunders says, with a long and deep supply chain. This allows it to stimulate economic activity in other sectors, such as manufacturing and agriculture. “Think of buses, cars, linen and towels, crockery and cutlery etc. Just imagine how many chickens and eggs Sun City consumes in a year. If you want to stimulate demand in manufacturing and agriculture, and other industries such as finance, marketing, retail, or logistics, tourism is your industry.”
According to Saunders, almost one additional rand of value is added to the rest of the economy for each rand of tourism direct spend. And for every direct job supported in tourism, an additional 1.1 jobs are supported in other sectors of the economy.
She also points out that, not only does tourism bring in foreign exchange and stimulate other sectors, but it is an employment-intense industry. She says while the industry must embrace the digital and shared economies, it will remain a people-intensive industry and a high employer. “Tourism employs people across the skill levels and, even better, across the country, often in rural areas.” Tourism is also a high employer of women and young people, at 70% and 60% of tourism employment respectively falling into these two demographics.
The tourism industry also supports high levels of indirect employment. Saunders says: “In total, 1.53 million jobs are supported by tourism currently; some 726 000 direct and more than half, at around 800 000, through the multiplier effect.”
Saunders says if South Africa reaches the target of 21 million arrivals in 2030, tourism will support in the order of two million more jobs in total throughout the economy.
“Tourism is an amazing industry. It is one in which you can still enter unskilled at the bottom, and make it to the top. There are many stories of cleaners, rangers, bar staff, and the like making it to lodge owner, hotel general manager, restaurant owner etc. Motivated people can make it to the top with no formal qualifications,” she concluded.

ConCourt judgment on spousal visas will help keep families together

Foreign nationals with South African or permanent resident spouses do not have to leave the country to apply for spousal visas.
The Constitutional Court handed down a judgment at the end of June that has important consequences for immigrants. A majority of the judges ruled that foreign spouses of South African citizens and permanent residents may apply for a spousal visa within South Africa and do not have to apply for such a visa overseas.
The judgment is a significant victory for families that faced potential separation. It may not seem like a big deal to have to leave the country to apply for a visa, but, besides being a financial burden for families, the process can take a long time, leaving spouses apart for months.
The applicants in the case were two families that had been affected by the Immigration Act and its Regulations. These laws require a foreign national whose visa status is being changed to apply for a new visa from outside South Africa.
Robinah Nandutu is a Ugandan citizen who entered South Africa on a visitor’s visa. When she arrived in South Africa, she was pregnant and gave birth shortly after. She travelled to South Africa to join her partner, James Tomlinson, a British citizen, who has permanent residence in South Africa. He is the father of their child. Nandutu married Tomlinson soon after she arrived in South Africa.
After they she got married, Nandutu sought to change her visa status from a visitor’s visa to a spousal visa. However, her application for a spousal visa was rejected. The reason for the rejection was because the Immigration Act prevents a person from changing their visa status while in South Africa unless there are exceptional circumstances.
The Immigration Regulations refer to two categories of “exceptional circumstances”. The first is if a person needs to access emergency medical treatment. The second is if a person is the child or spouse of someone who holds a work or study visa and wants to accompany them in South Africa.
Nandutu appealed the rejection of her application to the Director-General and the Minister. Both of these appeals were rejected.
The other applicants were Ilias Demerlis and Christakis Ttoffali who are in a permanent life partnership. Demerlis is a Greek national who arrived in South Africa on a visitor’s visa to join his partner Ttofalli. He later applied for a spousal visa, but this was rejected for the same reasons that Nandutu’s application was.
The High Court Judgment
The applicants launched an application in the Western Cape High Court to challenge the regulations. They argued they were invalid because the exceptional circumstances it lists do not include being a foreign spouse or child of a South African citizen or permanent resident.
Also, they argued that making an application from outside South Africa infringed their right to dignity. This is because it leads to a separation of families.
The High Court dismissed the application because in its view, the regulations serve legitimate purposes: deterring fraud and preventing criminals from taking advantage of the immigration system. Also, the Immigration Act provided a remedy for the applicants in this case: they could apply to the Minister to waive the requirement of having to apply from their country of origin.
Why the Constitutional Court reversed the High Court decision
The applicants appealed to the Constitutional Court. Here, they argued that the regulations infringed their right to dignity. They argued that separating their family infringes the rights of children especially the principle of the best interests of the child.
The applicants relied on a previous Constitutional Court judgment called Dawood v Minister of Home Affairs, where the court found that provisions which require a foreign spouse to leave the country to apply for an immigration permit infringe the right to dignity and family life.
The Department of Home Affairs and the visa processing company VFS were the respondents. They argued that there were important national security reasons for the prohibition on changing one’s visa from within South Africa.
In any case, they argued, the Minister of Home Affairs may waive the requirement of applying from outside South Africa. These waivers are considered on a case-by-case basis.
There were four main issues which the court had to determine.
First, whether the court’s finding in the Dawood judgment was applicable to this case.
Second, whether a change from a visitor’s visa to a spousal visa amounted to a change of visa status.
Third, whether the regulations infringed the right to dignity and whether this infringement was justifiable.
Fourth, whether the Minister was empowered to waive the requirement of applying from outside South Africa.
The applicability of Dawood
In the Dawood case, the Constitutional Court had to decide the constitutionality of the Aliens Control Act (now repealed) which required applicants for immigration permits to be outside South Africa when making their applications. The applicants in that case were foreign nationals who were married to South African citizens who would have to leave the country to apply for an immigration permit.
The court found that because many spouses were too poor to accompany their spouse overseas, the Act resulted in many families being separated. Separating families infringes the right to dignity because the right to dignity includes the right to sustain and maintain marriage relationships, the court said.
The court found that the same reasoning that applied to Dawood applied to this case. It also found that it was clear that the exceptional circumstances listed in the regulations did not include the circumstances that the applicants were in.
Change of Status
A visitor’s visa is different from a spousal visa because the rights, conditions and obligations which attach to each category of visa are different, the court said. Changing from one category of visa to another amounted to a change of status which forces the person to apply for the new visa from outside South Africa.
Right to dignity
The court ruled that the regulations infringed the applicants’ right to dignity for the same reasons outlined in Dawood. Also, the court pointed out that the regulations violated the best interests of the child principle because a child would be separated from one of their parents (the foreign spouse) who would have to leave the country.
Minister’s powers
The court found that the minister was not empowered to waive the requirement of applying from outside South Africa because it was a legislative requirement and not a regulatory one. This means the minister may only waive a requirement which is provided by the regulations and not a requirement in the Immigration Act.
Is the limitation justified?
Home Affairs submitted two main reasons for the exclusion of foreign spouses from the exceptional circumstances provided for by the Regulations.
First, South Africa is a sovereign state that may decide who enters the country and what the requirements are to remain in its borders.
Second, the exclusion deters people from fraudulently overstaying in South Africa by entering the country on a visitor’s visa and subsequently marrying a citizen or permanent resident.
But the court pointed out that Home Affairs failed to establish a link between the purpose of the exclusion and the means adopted to achieve it. Also, Home Affairs failed to show that this approach was proportionate to the impact on the applicants’ rights.
In any event, those who apply for a spousal visa are already required to comply with certain security checks and enquiries, the court said. Home Affairs had not established why these measures were insufficient.
As far as fraudulent marriages are concerned, Home Affairs was capable of conducting investigations to detect these, the court said.
Minority dissent
A minority of the Constitutional Court judges would have rejected the application. These judges argue that the right to remain, reside and enter the country is a right that only citizens have. Although the law provides accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers the general rule remains the same.
The minority was sceptical that the requirement to apply for a new visa from outside South Africa would prejudice or endanger the applicants in any way. Instead, they contended that the right of non-citizens to enter and remain in the country is best decided by the executive as long as it uses this discretion in a fair and reasonable manner.
The court declared the Immigration Regulations unconstitutional. But it suspended this order and gave Parliament two years to correct this defect. In the interim, the court ruled that the regulations should be read to include the fact that a person is the spouse or child of a South African citizen or permanent resident as an exceptional circumstance. If Parliament fails to amend the legislation in time, the court’s variation of the legislation will become final.

Home Affairs minister grilled on Cape Town reception office delays

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has blamed delays in the re-opening of the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office on the procurement of premises by the Department of Public Works.
Motsoaledi revealed this in a written response to a question from DA MP Christopher Roos, who asked about the date for the re-opening.
Roos wanted to know what lay behind the delays that resulted in Home Affairs missing the March 2018 court deadline to reopen the centre.
He also asked about interim measures put in place to allow new asylum- seekers arriving in Cape Town to file their applications.
In his written reply, Motsoaledi said the date for the re-opening of the refugee reception office depended on the finalisation of the lease agreement with the prospective landlord and the refurbishment of the offices.
“The Department of Public Works and Department of Home Affairs have signed the lease contract, awaiting the same concurrence with the prospective landlord,” he said.
Motsoaledi said the procurement requirements of the Department of Public Works in acquiring office accommodation contributed to the delay in meeting the deadline.
The minister said only refugee applicants who were dependents of existing clients were allowed to apply in Cape Town.
“The rest of new applicants are encouraged to apply as they enter the Republic in refugee offices closer to northern ports of entry as most applicants enter through those ports,” Motsoaledi said.
In 2012, the department suspended the services to first-time applicants in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth – two of the country’s five offices.
Its decision was appealed in the Supreme Court of Appeal, which ordered the department to re-open the Cape Town Refugee Reception centre in 2017. The department appealed to the Constitutional Court, but the matter was dismissed.