Recently, our Senior Immigration Consultant, Hannah Mminele was interviewed by Lula Odiba on YFM, where she had a chance to share her expertise and opinions on both local and international immigration.
YFM’s Lula Odiba: I’m so glad you’re here. Can you say “What’s Up” in German?
Hannah Mminele: Oh, wow, I’m not that sure the German language even has “What’s Up” because it’s just so rigid. Like, hey, was geht?
YFM: Yeah, was geht! Thank you for joining us tonight. I understand that you’re a global citizen; you’re a world traveller, but you’re originally from South Africa. When did you decide that you wanted to study abroad?
HM: For me, I’m privileged in a way that I have German heritage. I have a German passport and I went to the German school. I was always kind of playing with the idea of going overseas to study and I guess come Grade 11 when everybody was figuring out where they will go to university, that’s when I decided to focus mainly on the overseas universities and apply there.
YFM: You’re ahead of the game. You know, I wish I did that when I was in high school. I don’t know about you, but I would be so nervous leaving the country to go out there, live by myself. Did you have any of these anxieties?
HM: Of course, I did. I think anybody finishing school is nervous, what’s going to come? But there was also just a lot of excitement for the new experiences, being able to experience a different country to the one I’ve grown up in. I think there was more excitement, but obviously I was also a bit nervous.
YFM: So, before we get into immigration, let’s talk about your experience abroad. You started off in the UK, how was that?
HM: I loved the UK, and I must say I speak for London; I was in London mainly. Some people say it’s very different to some other places, but I absolutely loved it. The diversity of people, the amazing things you could do. I mean, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. I thought I saw adversity, but I also love Joburg.
YFM: Would you go back and revisit?
HM: For a certain amount of time yes, but I do consider South Africa my home.
YFM: And how long were you there?
HM: Two years.
YFM: And Germany? How was that, how long were you there?
HM: So also, two years, equal in both. Obviously, Germany was my in a sense home, second home, having that German heritage. I had a lot of family, so it was great being able to spend time with them. And the country. I mean, it’s really got that amazing, you know, you’re walking out in the city. There’s so much to do all the time. And even for me having that German heritage, having grown up in South Africa, I was still able to learn more about the culture, which I think is such a great part of being able to go overseas is that you get that whole new culture.
YFM: Did you stand out in both countries?
HM: I’m not sure. I think yes, in Germany. I remember the first day in university we were all saying where we’re from. And when I mentioned Johannesburg, it was a few confused looks because people were trying to place it as one of the kind of towns close to where my university was, and then I said it’s the one in South Africa and then they all knew what it was. They just hadn’t thought someone would come from that far away.
YFM: And then how do you then become an immigration expert?
HM: I completed my law studies, and, in that time, I was already having exposure through working at a refugee law clinic and then doing an internship within our statelessness department in South Africa. I had that interest and then when I came back, I was looking at positions at immigration companies. I applied, got the job and from there I’ve just had that amazing opportunity at IBN to learn to grow and become an expert.
YFM: What does the immigration process entail?
HM: It depends where you’re going. South Africa, or other countries; every country has their own rules. But you’re usually looking at these main questions: How are you going to enter that country? What are you going to do there? What’s your permission? Are you working? Are you studying? Are you conducting your own business? And then in some countries they also separate your residence. You need a separate residence permit, even if you have a work permit. In South Africa, it’s very simple because it’s all just one visa. We don’t have an entry visa, work permit, or residence permit. It’s just your visa which has all that combined. If you have your visa, you can come in, you can live here, and you can do whatever it says on the visa. So that’s really the process mainly.
YFM: What documents do you need prior to applying for a visa?
HM: There’s a lot of documents depending on what you’re going to do, but we always advise that if you have the basic documents ready, that’s a good step in advance. That’s your passport, make sure it has a long validity, birth certificates or your certificates from your university or any other qualifications. Oftentimes people have to scramble to get those, and universities aren’t quick to respond. If you can have all those ready, all those available, it will help with a visa.
YFM: What are the immigration laws and how exactly do they protect immigrants in our country?
HM: In South Africa, in essence, a person who’s immigrated has a lot of the same rights as South Africans. The way our constitution works, is if it says it’s only for South Africans, then it’s only for South Africans. If it says it’s just for everyone, it’s for everyone. The immigration laws obviously protect immigrants by giving them the specific rights to do what they want to do, but South Africa always looks at the local people, at our labour market, and protecting our unemployed people. That’s the balance they strike. The immigration laws are there to facilitate and provide the framework where you can say, “If you meet these requirements, you are actually welcome to come here and work or conduct your own business or study.” So that’s how they would protect us. One last aspect to mention is that they say there’s an aim to have the process be as efficient and as low hurdle as possible. In practice that’s not always the case, but the laws do provide that protection.
YFM: If someone from South Africa moves to another country are they protected by the immigration laws in that country?
HM: In the same way usually, so they will also have to comply with the requirements, with the framework under which they will be allowed to work, under which they will be allowed to study. They would also have a lot of opportunities. I think that’s something where, talking protection in a wider sense, the immigration laws of other countries also provide opportunities for South Africans to move over, and if they meet the requirements, to have a successful life there.
YFM: Let’s talk about the trends. Do you see more people migrating into South Africa or people migrating away?
HM: There’s no official numbers on this yet; there’s various statistics floating around, Home Affairs has said they want to start tracking these numbers more closely. They announced that sometime last year. From the statistics that we’re able to find, it’s probably around the same amount. In the last period (it’s usually counted as a five-year period) both numbers were just under a million, people coming in slightly less. These are the official numbers so there’s still unofficial numbers, like people who left but maybe still have their house here, their home base, so South Africa doesn’t really know they’ve left, or people who have come in and they don’t have the right visa, so South Africa doesn’t know they’re here! I think it’s about the same. If you’re asking the trends, where do people want to go, we really see both ways. We see so many people from all over the world saying South Africa is a beautiful country.
YFM: People want to come here?
HM: Yes! They see the potentials, they see the potentials in the economy, as well for renewable energies, things like that. They love the country, of course in terms of the people, the nature we have. People want to come and obviously also from the African continent, people want to come here work here, contribute and a lot of them are highly skilled.
YFM: I don’t see how people will see opportunities in this country when it’s so dark all the time. It doesn’t make sense.
HM: It goes both ways. And I’m saying yes, people also want to leave. As a company, we try and facilitate both because I think at the end of the day, it’s about a new experience for a lot of people, so that’s why people want to come here because it’s a new experience and the people who are here wanting to go because they’re also interested in a new experience.
YFM: And how do immigrants contribute to the South African economy?
HM: It obviously depends on what they’re doing. If we’re looking at our work visa categories, the point is that they should be and usually are paying tax here, so that’s a financial contribution. They contribute their skills if they come with the skills background, or even just a different perspective to certain problems and approaches within a company. And contributing just to our general society by bringing those cultural differences, that international vibe, I think that’s a contribution we can’t underestimate, for South Africa to be internationally recognized as an interesting place.
YFM: Let’s talk about some of the reasons migrants are deported.
HM: The main reason is that they don’t have a valid status. That’s essentially the main reason why you would find yourself being deported. You don’t have a valid status, and generally you have been given the opportunity to leave and you fail to leave. That is how it should work. We do know that in some cases, that doesn’t happen. People just get arrested immediately. But usually, Home Affairs would say, “if you can show us a flight ticket or your means to leave, you can leave but then you would get a ban on not being able to come back.” So not having a visa is the main reason people get deported.
YFM: I have a friend that used to work in the in the USA, and she used to au pair there. Unfortunately, her visa came to an end, but she went back, I think on a different kind of visa, and then she got deported. She’s in the process of trying to go back because she still has a job there to au pair these kids. Is there any chance that they’ll let her back in?
HM: Look, it’s really difficult to give advice on specific cases without knowing the full background. But once you’ve been deported from a country, it does make your case just so much more difficult because the authorities… Look, immigration authorities can be quite restrictive. Yes, they want to help people come in that are highly skilled, but they also want to make sure to keep “the bad people” out. Once you have that it’s just generally speaking, difficult. But if that person needs more contact, we do have partners in the US!
YFM: So, it’s not impossible for her to go back, right?
HM: It’s difficult to say as I say, specifics, I don’t want to publicly comment.
YFM: She spent so much money on this whole process. So yeah, eish. And how can someone get a permanent visa and what’s the entire process?
HM: For South Africa, to get a Permanent Residence Permit, generally it’s about having been here on a work status. Unfortunately, if you were here as a student, those times don’t count, which is really rough for a lot of people whose, you know, having a work visa for five years, or falling under the critical skills list. Then you can apply for permanent residence, it’s an application that takes quite long to be processed, but once you have it, then you will be able to apply for your ID as well. Then there’s some other aspects as well if you have, you know, family members at a certain level, or if you’re able to make a certain investment, have created a business, there’s also options of getting a Permanent Residence Permit.
YFM: What’s the difference between an immigrant and a refugee?
HM: The way I like to explain is that a refugee is one form of an immigrant. Refugee is a very specific type: that’s people who have fled a country because they are persecuted or they have a well-founded fear of persecution for certain reasons, including gender, nationality, political opinion, or there’s a general situation of public disorder in that country that makes it not able to stay. That’s what refugees are. It’s a very specific category, and an immigrant is basically anybody who has moved to a different country, or a country that they are not originally from, that could be for other reasons as well.
YFM: I want to go back to the students. What happens if I have a Study Visa, but now I keep failing, and I need to stay a little longer?
HM: Essentially you can renew a Study Visa. If you have your acceptance in your university and you still have sufficient funds to support yourself, and the university has confirmed that you are continuing your studies, then you can renew and apply for an extension of your Study Visa. That is something that we would assist with for example. If the university is no longer really extending then one would have to explore alternatives, maybe a new course, something that’s more suited, but in principle it’s possible on a Study Visa to renew. It’s just important to note, as I said, it doesn’t lead to permanent residence. At some point we always advise try finishing and getting onto a work visa, because if you here 10 years as a student, Home Affairs doesn’t really say, “You’ve been here 10 years, this is your home.”
YFM: If someone came here as a refugee, can they apply for a visa?
HM: That’s quite a complex topic, but the short answer is yes. There might be various steps involved. One will also need to assess why they would want to do that, you know, depending on their circumstances, whether the refugee application process is more preferable, but yes, the short answer is that they can still apply to change into the normal immigration process. There might be interim steps needed to get that permission.
YFM: Where can people find you if they want a little bit more information?
HM: As you said in the beginning, our company is IBN Immigration Solutions, that the company I work for. On social media, we’ve got a YouTube channel, which has actually quite a lot of information, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and then also they can reach out to us by email, our email address is email@example.com.
YFM: Well, thank you so much for joining us, I learned so lot. I’m definitely going to be coming to IBN when I move to London!
Edited by Simon Carletti