While there might be alternative options for Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) holders to remain in the country after the permits expire, these options are not viable and are hard to acquire, an expert says.
Zimbabweans have been queuing at home affairs offices for the past two months to try to regularise their stay in South Africa by applying for other forms of visas as the permits were set to expire on June 30. But home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi extended the deadline on Wednesday by six months to December 30.
This means ZEP holders who fail to make an application before the new deadline will have to leave the country or face deportation.
“Employers who hire foreigners should prepare to face increasing scrutiny by the department of employment and labour and the South African Police Service through intensified inspections … to crack down on noncompliance with labour and immigration laws after the extension period lapses.” said immigration specialist at law firm Webber Wentzel, Bianca Rutherfoord-Jones.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
Zimbabwean citizens may remain in South Africa if they comply with specific requirements set out in the Immigration Act to acquire the appropriate permits.
The law provides for a number of different permits depending on the applicant and their circumstances.
In terms of section 19 of the Immigration Act, an employer would have to submit proof of employment for the Zimbabwean to acquire a work visa.
Those who have “exceptional” skills and qualifications are permitted to get a work visa for themselves and their immediate family.
Rutherfoord-Jones said there is also the visitor’s visa in terms of section 11 of the Act, which is available to Zimbabweans and valid for three months.
“Some may apply for a study visa or a business visa. For Zimbabweans who have been in a good faith spousal relationship with a South African citizen or permanent resident may be eligible for a Relatives Visa in terms of section 18 of the Act. These are only a few permits still available to ZEP holders, provided they meet the qualifying criteria,” she said.
SHOULD ZIM NATIONALS RATHER GET PERMANENT RESIDENCE PERMITS?
Zimbabwean Trust Chapfujama, who has been living in South Africa since 2013 and does odd jobs as a general worker, said he was nervous about the expiry of the ZEP as he has no opportunity to apply for a visa or a waiver.
“I am always working to send money home to Zimbabwe. I have been here for a long time and my children sometimes come from Zimbabwe to stay with me in Gauteng. I can’t apply for a spousal permit because my wife is Zimbabwean. I am a bit relieved that it is extended but I don’t know what I will do,” he told TimesLIVE.
Advocate Simba Chitando, who brought an application to the Pretoria high court on behalf of the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Holders Association (ZEPHA) to challenge the cancellation of the permits, said these alternatives do not guarantee a positive outcome.
The only alternative for ZEP holders is to wait for the decision by the high court which would hopefully be in their favour.
This is because the requirements for an alternative permit are too stringent and it was harder for Zimbabweans to get a work permit or a critical skills permit.
“Most ZEP holders do not qualify for critical skills permits and many of the other visas the minister said they can apply for. They ought to apply for a permanent residency permit if they have been here for more than 10 years. ZEP holders married to a South African can apply for a spousal permit.”
According to the Immigration Act, people can apply for permanent residence if they hold a work permit and have prospects of permanent employment.
Chitando said the requirements for other permits are too stringent and it was harder for Zimbabweans to get a work permit or a critical skills permit.
“The ZEP holders ought to get permits per circumstances. In this case, it should be permanent residency. They have been in the country for more than a decade and it doesn’t make sense to single out Zimbabweans but allow Europeans and Americans to apply for permanent residency.”
He said the best alternative solution is to wait for the high court’s ruling, which is yet to be made as judgment has been reserved.
HOW TO APPLY FOR AN ALTERNATIVE VISA
Those who want to apply for the relevant permits and visa need to first complete an online application form, pay the relevant fees, ensure their documents are in order and schedule a booking at a Visa Facilitation Centre (VFS Centre).
The applicant will receive a VFS receipt as proof of application, said Rutherfoord-Jones.
“The receipt will contain the date and time of submission, the full names and surname of the applicant and a reference number which will be important for proving the application was lodged within the time frame granted in the extension period.
“ZEP holders and their employers have another short reprieve in which to decide on the appropriate course of action. In the event that no action is taken by December 31, ZEP holders risk the legal consequences associated with a foreign national’s undocumented or unlawful presence in the country,” she said.