No fewer than 180 would-be immigrants and their immigration services providers have hauled the Department of Home Affairs to court for delays of six years and more in attempting to secure permanent residence permits.
The court documents say the applicants have several million US dollars to invest and possess critical skills that are sorely needed in the SA economy.
The delays in processing permanent residence applications is costing the economy R10-R15 billion a year.
The respondents in the case are the minister of Home Affairs, the president, the director-general of Home Affairs, and VFS Global South Africa, which processes permanent residence permits on behalf of Home Affairs.
It didn’t used to be this way
Deposing for the applications, Leon Isaacson, director of Global Migration Services, says he has been an immigration practitioner since 2007, at which time permanent residence applications were handled in no more than six months.
This was because regional Home Affairs offices handled the applications.
“There was sporadic corruption in the granting and refusal of permanent residence applications, mostly isolated to Germiston and Durban,” says Isaacson.
Then came a change …
In 2010, then home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma centralised permanent residence applications in the Pretoria national office, and that prolonged the process from six months to three years.
In 2015, VFS Global was brought on board and – though it did not make decisions as to who got permanent residence or not – the application process prolonged from three to six years.
This is far in excess of the Department of Home Affairs’s indicated processing time of eight to 10 months.
Then a decision
“The inordinate delay in processing permanent residence applications has led to a decision, being made by the Department of Home Affairs, not to accept any further permanent residence applications,” deposes Isaacson.
“This decision effectively deletes Section 25 of the Immigration Act, which provides for permanent residents permits. It has blocked millions of United States dollars, together with essential skills, from being invested into the South African economy.”
The Department of Home Affairs is all but collapsed, adds Isaacson.
It gets worse …
“Not only is it not receiving any more permanent residents applications, and not capable of processing the existing permanent residence applications it has received, it has decided to make its job even more impossible by reviewing every permanent residence permit it issued from 2004 to date,” says Isaacson. “An impossible undertaking under the circumstances.”
As a result of these delays, the Department of Home Affairs has failed to deliver on its legislative mandate and the applicants are asking the court to intervene on their behalf.
Isaacson told Moneyweb that the Covid-19 pandemic has also aggravated delays in the issuing of temporary residence visas inside South Africa for up to six months. “Clearly Covid has taken its toll on staffing numbers and staff health, so Home Affairs has been extending visas for 3-6 months at time to allow people to stay legal.”
The permanent residence permit backlog has been building for a while, and Global Migration Services, one of several immigration services providers bringing the case on behalf of the would-be immigrants, says it felt compelled to take the matter to court on behalf of 180 applicants who have been waiting for up to six years for their applications.
“It is highly prejudicial for long term residents to be without permanent residence, as banking facilities, education, employment and related issues are dependent on this status,” says Isaacson, whose company represents about 70 of the applicants, half of whom are from Africa, the rest mainly from Europe.
Isaacson adds that Home Affairs is likely to settle rather than argue the case in court, as it has indicated that it does not want more litigation.
While a settlement in this case might benefit the 180 applicants, it may do little to settle the status of thousands more applicants who have been waiting years for both permanent residence and work visas based on the department’s critical skills list.
There appears to be a growing cleave between the Office of the Presidency – which is openly in favour of opening SA’s economy to skilled immigrants – and the Department of Labour, which appears less than enthusiastic about hiring foreigners over South Africans.
Isaacson suggests that Home Affairs is caught in the middle of this rift and paralysed into inaction.
He cites one example of a nearly R1 billion foreign investment deal in the energy sector that was nearly snuffed out by the department’s refusal or inability to issue 30 critical skills visas to German specialists who applied for visas to enter the country and train South Africans in a specific gas technology.
“This was a R1 billion investment that required nothing from government,” says Isaacson.
“All it had to do was issue the visas, and it was only after pressure was brought to bear from multiple quarters that the visas were actually issued and the deal was saved.”