On the 24 November 2021, the Cabinet of South Africa announced that Zimbabwean Exemption Permits (ZEPs) will no longer be renewed. According to Directive 10 of 2021, all ZEP holders will be tolerated for a twelve-month grace period. During this year, ZEP holders may travel freely in and out of SA.
For those wishing to stay in SA for an extended period, the Home Affairs Director-General determined that they must apply within SA for regular visas/permits according to the Immigration Act. VFS has confirmed that this is possible and has created the capacity to accommodate Zimbabwean applicants.
For Zimbabweans who possess critical skills or are spouses/partners of SA citizens, the forced transition from the ZEP system into the immigration system will be easy. I fear that for most Zimbabweans, however, it will be nearly impossible to apply for a General Work Visa.
Considering the duration of their stay in SA, the fact that they have built lives and paid taxes here and are valid members of our society, we wished the Director-General would have lowered the usual threshold for the applicants in the following ways:
I recently suggested that for ZEP holders, a similar visa solution should be applied as with spouses of SA citizens. Currently, spouses and life partners of SA citizens or permanent residence holders can obtain spousal visas with an endorsement to work or conduct their own business, under much easier circumstances and with much less documentation required, compared to ordinary foreigners.
These so-called spousal visas with an endorsement to either work or conduct business would be a fair middle-ground between full legalisation for ZEP holders. Our current immigration practices already allow for this lower threshold. For instance, an applicant for a spousal visa with an endorsement to work only needs to prove an offer of employment and the spousal relationship in order to be able to work on their spousal visa.
These suggestions could include an amnesty, as many international countries do, periodically in the interest of the SA labour market. Zimbabweans who run their own businesses could apply for a full visa with an endorsement to work. This includes proving that the ZEP holder is tax-registered and personally compliant, as well as fully compliant as an employer.
These ideas would require legislative change. For now, the practical challenge remains that presently, there is no specific visa in existence under which where ZEP holders could be transferred.
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