On 26 March 2020 the South African government published directions in terms of regulations of the Disaster Management act of 2002 as a response to the global covid-19 pandemic. One particular section with severe consequences is section 5 where it stipulates that foreigners with temporary residence for South Africa, but residing in high risk countries as per the date of publication, have their visas revoked. The list of high-risk countries at the time consisted of the USA, UK, South Korea, Italy Iran, Germany. It appears this list evolves although Home Affairs has not clarified which countries are considered to be high risk at any given time. Certainly, Brazil should be among the countries with the highest chance of contracting covid-19, while on the Home Affairs website Brazil does not feature as such.
In legal terms, revoking a visa means it has been cancelled and no longer holds validity nor can it be validated without the submission of a new application.
We believe the consequences of this measure can be catastrophic. So far we have already seen families being separated and without a source of income, MD’s of large international companies unable to return and even continue acting in their roles remotely since their position is subject to a valid work visa for South Africa. Once the South African missions abroad reopen, they are expected to be overburdened by applications of foreigners who have lost their visa resulting in long delays, lost income and essential skills unable to be brought back to South Africa. Would this really have been the intention of government when drafting these directions?
IBN has been invited to be part of a working group initiated by the American Chamber of Commerce to discuss this particular issue and to start a dialogue with the government to reconsider this measure or at least reduce the negative impact. During our first virtual discussion and after hearing other people’s input we realized the uncertainty around the matter and how there are many more questions than answers at this stage. One participant, a country CEO of a large American company opted to remain in South Africa to avoid loosing his right to work (resulting in the firm being without a CEO), however on recommendation by the US government he had his family travel back home. According to the direction, the family members have lost their residence visas for South Africa raising the question when this family will be reunited.
Suggestions we have raised are for the government to:
- Reopen the South African missions abroad immediately so that visa applications can at least be adjudicated before borders re-open as well as the re-opening of the visa adjudication division within Home Affairs head office in Pretoria as well as VFS global, the interface of Home Affairs.
- Provide clarity on what process to follow for foreigners with visas being revoked.
Reinstatement ideally in case legally possible, otherwise re-issue should be on the basis of providing a health covid-19 certificate rather than having to present an entire new set of documents
- Give clear instructions to professional bodies and institutions such as SAQA to return to their normal processes now
IBN holds membership with a range of international bilateral chambers of commerce in South Africa. We believe that as members and immigration specialists we can leverage through these platforms to start constructive discussions with the government and positively influence policy making.
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By Hans Kroll