Panic over immigration rules

29 May 2014 - 02:15 By Nashira Davids
The old Department of Home Affairs building in Pretoria. File photo
The old Department of Home Affairs building in Pretoria. File photo
Image: Elvis Ntombela

New immigration regulations have caused widespread confusion among immigration agents and lawyers.

Lawyer Craig Smith is planning legal action against former minister Naledi Pandor - or her successor Malusi Gigaba - for passing "xenophobic laws" that contradict each other and are riddled with errors. The regulations were gazetted on May 22.

Smith said the new regulations meant that, for example, a foreigner married to a South African must return to their home country to apply for a spousal visa.

The application must be lodged at the South African mission there.

"The reason these changes came about is Home Affairs not being efficient in managing permit backlogs," said Smith.

"It is trying to remedy its failure by drastic law-making because they believe the less foreigners there are, the less backlogs.

"The problem is it becomes unfriendly to investors, who will now look elsewhere."

Robbie Ragless, managing director of New World Immigration South Africa, said Immigration Services deputy director-general Jackie McKay had issued a directive at the weekend to start implementing the laws pertaining to visas. Richardo Abrams, from the chief directorate of port control, confirmed the directive.

"It should be noted that any foreign national intending to cross international borders should have a valid passport and a valid permit [or] visa at arrival and departure points," said Abrams.

In the past, people such as students who applied to have their visas extended could leave South Africa temporarily by presenting documentation from the department confirming that their application was being processed.

Ragless said the process should take 30 days but because of the backlog it could take months.

Under the new directive, foreigners may not leave the country while the application is being processed.

They could be declared an "undesirable person" at the airport and barred from returning to South Africa for up to five years.

Rod Maxwell, CEO of SA Migration International, said only officials in Cape Town had heeded the directive.

"There is great confusion among some embassies, missions and even in the Department of Home Affairs. This morning [Wednesday] Cape Town officials were told to ignore the directive and revert to the old regulations," said Maxwell.

Home Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said a media conference will be held today to address concerns.