By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
30 May 2014
The sweeping changes to South Africa’s immigration laws, which came into effect this week, are set to have the biggest impact on the hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans working there.
There has been an uproar in the days that followed the introduction of the changes, which the South African authorities have said are aimed at strengthening security and clamping down on abuse of the old laws.
The changes extend to visa applications, permanent or temporary stay and foreigners looking to set up businesses in South Africa and, according to Global Migration SA, the rules may trigger a “raft of litigation with respect to obvious omissions and constitutional issues.”
The new visa regime being introduced is of particular concern, with the new regulations drawing a clear distinction between short-stay visas and long-stay permanent residence permits. Among the changes is the doing away with exceptional skills permits that used to allow professionals to go to South Africa and seek work.
There has also been the immediate repeal of cross-border and transit permits and a clear stipulation that any new visas, whether it be for work or study, can only be applied for in the home nation of the applicant.
At the same time, the system of fining people who overstay their permits has been scrapped and instead, habitual over-stayers face being declared ‘undesirable’ and barred from South Africa for between one to five years.
For Zimbabweans citizens the story gets more complicated, with no clarity yet from the South African authorities about what is next for those nationals who were granted permits under the special dispensation period in 2010. The authorities said in March that those permits expire later this year, but they have offered no further clarity on what happens now.
The new Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said this week that “discussions” are still ongoing about the future of the Zimbabwean permits.
“The permit, now visa, which they were granted, expires this year. We now need to decide on what shall happen going forward. We are in the process of discussions; in that regard your friends will have to bear with me. Tell them I have only been three days in my new job. I could not have been briefed about everything. Once we have applied our minds we will make the necessary announcements. We cannot promise that it will be in the next week or two or even three because a lot of work needs to go into that thinking and a lot of thinking needs to go into that work,” Gigaba said.
With the new laws in place the expiration on the Zim permits technically means all Zimbabweans who had the documents are now expected to return home to apply for fresh visas.
But Rodgers Mudarikwa from the MDC-T in South Africa said Friday that Zim nationals were promised that the special dispensation permits would be renewable. He told SW Radio Africa that people will not travel to Zimbabwe because “the situation is still bad.”
“This is going to affect more Zimbabweans than any other nationality. People have said that even if their permits expire, they won’t go back to Zimbabwe. They said they will apply for asylum instead,” Mudarikwa said.
Thousands of Zimbabweans continue to stream into South Africa every week, with the economic situation continuing to deteriorate back home. Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede recently admitted that his department was struggling to cope with a huge spike in the demand for passports.
“There is a high demand for passports in Zimbabwe as people are leaving to escape the economic crisis the country is facing,” Mudede told a Parliamentary committee early this month.
Mudarikwa said: “If they (South Africa) refuse to renew the permits, then the only option we will have is to seek legal action.”