South Africa’s new strict visa changes have sparked anxiety among non-South Africans; particularly Africans-that moved there years ago to seek greener pastures.
The new regulations comes with significant changes to visa types and severe penalties for foreigners who overstay their visit.
For instance if a person overstays their visitor visa for 30 days, they risk having their passport stamped with undesirable or prohibited from entry into SA for 1, 2 or 5 years; depending on a decision their Home Office makes.
Significant changes have been made to visas and permits.
Multiple entry visas have been removed and replaced with single entry visas that are for short term stay; and-short term visas cannot be extended/renewed within SA as the applicant is now expected to return to the SA Embassy in their home country for renewal.
In other words if you arrive into South Africa and want to prolong your stay, you cannot renew/extend your visa from within but have to return to the SA mission in your home country to do that.
For instance, a foreigner cannot change their visitor visa (visitor visa is also given for medical reasons) to any other type of visa e.g student, business, tourist when they are in South Africa; like it was possible with the old regulations.
In Uganda for instance, long stagnant queues never seen before at the South African Embassy in Kampala, are becoming a common sight. Applicants often line up as early as 1:00a.m to be among the 20 few whose applications will be considered for the day’s accepted cut-off of handed in applications.
Until South Africa’s new immigration regulations came in effect on May 26th 2014, applying for a SA visa was relatively easy in most African countries except in Nigeria and Rwanda.
In Uganda, some frustrated applicants have resorted to bribing security guards at the Mission to get their applications in and passports back; quicker.
WHAT HAS CHANGED
- A clear distinction now exists between short stay visas and long stay permits. Under the new regulations, the word visa (for short term stay) has replaced permit e.g visitor permit is now a visitor visa, work permit is now a work visa. Permit is now strictly for long term stay in South Africa e.g Permanent Residency Permit, Business Permit or Critical Skills Permit.
- Short term visas lasting as short as 1-4 days are now more frequently given out (e.g to attend a conference, medical reasons, visiting, cultural exchanges etc). The longest visas last 90 days at most. Most visas given are from a day to 6 weeks and cannot be extended from within South Africa.
- Visa extensions are impossible within South Africa. To get an extension, one’s visa still has to be valid for 60 days prior to the extension sought yet 90 days is the minimum expiry of visas.
- Visa over-stayers risk being banned by immigration officials for a period of 1,2, 5 years if found. With the old regulations, one who over-stayed their visa would be fined but now they can be declared ‘undesirable’ or ‘prohibited’ from returning to S.A for up to 5 years.
- Foreigners with fraudulent passports, visas, residency permits or identification documents will now have to leave South Africa as they will be considered prohibited or banned people.
- Biometric requirements (fingerprints, iris of your eye and facial features) expected for all visa and permit applicants. In the past, SA did not require biometric details but with the new regulations, they are required at all ports of entry.
- Applicants must apply in person for their visa or permit. It is no longer allowed to send someone else or courier company or travel agent to apply for a visa to South Africa on the applicant’s behalf. The applicant has to turn up themselves and have their biometrics taken for the visa processing to start.
- Children are all required to have their own passports. They can no longer travel on the passport of their parents.
- Children must have an unabridged birth certificate (on which their birth was recorded) to enter into South Africa. Whether travelling with either or both parents, the parent/s must produce an abridged birth certificate for their child/children. If one of the parents is travelling with the child/children, they must have a consent affidavit from the other parent approving the child/children’s travel.
AFRICANS IN SOUTH AFRICA MOST AFFECTED BY THE NEW REGULATIONS
The new regulations are causing panic among Zimbabweans and Nigerians who account for the majority of African foreigners living in South Africa.
Other Africans too; Ugandans, Congolese, Kenyans, Mauritians who have moved to the ‘Gateway of Africa’ to get a share of the proceeds from the gold-and- diamonds- rich country, are worried about their future there.
Zimbabwe’s economic crisis caused hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans to migrate into South Africa in search of jobs. An estimated 2-3 million Zimbabweans are believed to live in South Africa where the bulk of Zimbabwean diaspora are believed to have moved.
In 2009, South Africa issued special dispensation permits to Zimbabweans to legalise their stay there but they are expired by the end of this year.
Up to 250,000 Zimbabweans will be forced to return home if their temporary residence permits are not renewed under the new regulations.
In 2013, Zimbabweans were granted 1939 (28.5%) Permanent Residence permits out of the 6,801 that the South African government issued to African foreigners that had worked their undocumented for years.
Zimbabweans also account for 18,899 four year temporary residence permits (18.5%) that were given to African nationals in South Africa. They expire in December 2014.
While the new changes have sparked panic among different African nationals, most South Africans approve of them as they say South African borders are porous.