Visa Backlog at Home Affairs affects Tourism, Growth and Security

The South African immigration authority, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), is currently causing significant inconvenience in the tourism sector. Due to massive backlogs and long processing times for visa and permanent residence applications, the DHA has advised tourists to leave the country by the end of February. This drastic measure could have far-reaching consequences for the country’s tourism industry, economic growth and security.

The South African immigration authority, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), has issued a controversial directive urging tourists to leave the country by the end of February if they wish to extend their stay. This measure was announced on December 21, 2023, and has already received considerable criticism. According to the DHA’s instruction, tourists intending to extend their stay in South Africa must leave the country by February 29, 2024. This decision could cause significant damage to the country’s tourism industry, as visitors who wanted to extend their stay beyond the busy holiday season will now be denied entry due to the ministry’s backlog.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has expressed concern about this development. Angel Khanyile, a member of the DA’s parliament, warned that South Africa could lose millions in revenue by rejecting visa extensions during the busiest season. Khanyile stated, “Tourists entering South Africa are granted a 90-day visa and can then apply for a 90-day extension if they wish to stay longer.” The DA has written a letter to the Minister of Home Affairs, calling for the issuance of a new directive. This directive should grant tourists who are on a 90-day visa and waiting for the outcome of their extension the right to stay until the backlog is cleared or their departure date (whichever comes first).

A leaked memo from the State Attorney’s Office to the Department of Home Affairs, obtained by the Sunday Times, shows that the backlog now stands at over 95 000 applications. The State Attorney’s Office warns of significant consequences, including the disruption of immigration processes, national security risks due to rushed processing of applications, and a general hindrance to economic growth.

These consequences are evident in the recent DHA directive, and worryingly, the problem does not seem to be improving. According to Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi, the backlog for temporary residence permits remained unchanged at over 74 309 since the ministry’s last report at the end of October 2023. In addition, there is a backlog of 43 944 unprocessed permanent residence permits.

Immigration attorney Gary Eisenberg believes that the crisis in the immigration application process is much worse than the ministry’s numbers suggest. This is because the provided numbers do not include appeals or current reviews. Eisenberg commented, “It is unclear whether the ministry’s numbers include appeals and applications under review, and this number is likely much higher than the reported 74 000.” Experts also doubt the ministry’s ability to address the backlog in a timely manner. In a parliamentary question session in late November, Motsoaledi admitted that the timeframe for clearing the backlog had been extended from June 2024 to November 2024.

Immigration expert Ralph M. Ertner from Into SA, who has been advising foreign-owned businesses and immigrants for almost three decades, went even further and pointed out that the minister has recently deliberately failed to commit to addressing the backlog. On the contrary, Minister Motsoaledi’s public disregard and lawlessness have now reached an unprecedented high as he often found himself on the wrong side of court decisions in 2023 (abolition of the ZEP, fraudulent visas, interpretation of the Marriage Act, etc.) and watched multiple deadlines pass without the necessary action being taken from his side. As a result, he is currently being charged with contempt of various courts, including the Constitutional Court, but he is not bothered in the slightest. Instead of responding to the courts, he pretends to be sick and gets admitted to the hospital – a practice he learned from the master of avoiding judgments and court appearances, Jacob Zuma.

Ertner sides with Judge Lekhuleni and affirms that accountability, responsiveness, and openness of ALL state organs are the fundamental cornerstones of the South African constitution. Minister Motsoaledi’s failure to comply with any court order is a serious violation of the integrity and honour of a court. It also constitutes a grave infringement of any applicant’s constitutional right to fair, procedurally fair, and lawful administrative action, as set out in Section 33 of the Constitution in conjunction with Section 3 of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act.

The inconvenience for tourists and the potential impact on the country’s economy are alarming. The demand for an immediate solution to the visa backlog is growing louder as South Africa’s tourism sector, the anyway weak economic growth and the country’s security face an unprecedented challenge.

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