Challenges encountered in issuance of permits: briefing by Department of Home Affairs

Home Affairs

09 August 2010
Chairperson: Mr B Martins (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Home Affairs briefed the Committee on challenges that the Department had faced with issuing of permits with a view to proposing amendments to the Immigration Act 2002 (Act No. 13 of 2002). It highlighted that the main purpose of the presentation was to emphasise that these challenges had also lead to backlogs incurred by the Department. It mentioned that these challenges could be overcome by achieving the short term and long-term goals that the Department could adopt.

The Department explained the history of travel movement in South Africa that contributed to investing financial resources in the economy, contributing to social and cultural development, investing skills and experience in order to promote economic growth, and promoting tourism and facilitating academic exchanges within SADC. The Department noted that holiday visas caused problems as some holiday makers would request to an extension in South Africa rather than in their own country.

 

The Department emphasised that since South Africa was a member of the United Nations, it was obligated to follow the United Nations Convention and Protocols relating to Refugees. The Department explained the various types of visas and permitting services and the difference between a visa and a permit. The Department added that there was confusion in the minds of members of the public as to the meaning of permits and visas. The Department was also perturbed that applicants for permits and visas were not approaching the Department directly but hiring the services of immigration practitioners. This introduced fraudulent activities and started contributing to the backlogs already facing the Department. The Department r stressed that DNA testing should be mandatory in order to check if the children included in an application really belonged to the parents applying for a permit or visa. It was also necessary to prevent bogus marriages. Married applicants would need to prove beyond reasonable doubt, in front of Home Affairs employees, that their marriage was real.

The Department then addressed their short-term proposals amendments to the Immigration Act. The Department mentioned that there were many types of visas. It wanted to revise policies and procedures for issuing visas and permits. It also said that the removal of immigration practitioners from the Act would greatly reduce the activities of fraud.

The Department addressed issues of economic migrants and asylum seekers, and the consultation of stakeholders in mitigating further problems. Asylum seekers would need, before the expiration of a 14 days temporary permit, to appear before the asylum centres.

Members agreed that the Department had presented good and well-thought out proposals to minimise the problems of backlogs. Members asked whether the short-term plan of removing immigration practitioners from the Act was indeed the right step, as immigration practitioners knew their job and also shared the load that Home Affairs experienced nationally. Members suggested that monitoring immigration practitioners might help in asserting that protocols were being followed and that those practitioners who conformed to the law were not punished because of the malpractice of a minority. Members expressed their concern with paternity tests and the financial implications of such measures to the Department. Members also agreed with the Department about proving the validity of a marriage is true and not giving permits to applicants who claimed to be married but hardly even know each other. Members asked how big a backlog the Department had incurred.

Meeting report

Challenges encountered in the issuance of Permits: Department of Home Affairs (DHA)
Mr Mkuseli Apleni, Director General, Department of Home Affairs said that the Department wished to provide proposals to address challenges in the permitting regime through amendments to the Immigration Act 2002 (Act No. 13 of 2002). He explained that his Department issued many types of visas and permits. He detailed the various categories. He noted that the legislation allowed foreign nationals to change their status within South Africa. This led them to enter the country under false pretences. Some holiday makers would request to an extension in South Africa rather than in their own country.

Moreover, there was poor management of risks associated with the screening of foreign nationals who sought to enter South Africa. It was necessary to secure South Africa’s borders and ports of entry against major risks and threats while facilitating the flow of persons and trade.

As a United Nations member South Africa had to agree to particular terms and conditions in issuing asylum transit permits.  There was, however, a lack of policy and legislative framework to differentiate the management of economic migrants and asylum seekers. There was absence of a permit to facilitate the movement of economic migrants. As a member of the United Nations, it was necessary to follow protocol. He stressed that permits meant longer stays whilst visas were for shorter stays.

Mr Apleni said that relative’s permits and permanent residence permits were abused, in particular by foreigners entering into marriages of convenience or bogus life partnership agreements with South African citizens or permanent residents. Some form of proof should be required that a marriage was genuine. Also the Act did not require a paternity or DNA test for processing an application for a residence permit by a child of a South African citizen or a parent whose child was a South African citizen.

Mr Apleni said that the Act’s provision for immigration practitioners resulted in fraudulent access to these visas and added to the backlog of the Department. He stressed that seeing the applicant at Home Affairs was to be recommended. He emphasised that DNA testing on children/parents would help prevent fraudulent applications.

Discussion
The Chairperson admitted that there was a sensitive balance to be struck in terms of meeting with the United Nations (UN) obligations and those of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). South Africa needed to ensure integrity in its documents that would help in reducing the problems or eliminating them. He furthered explained that he did not want to visas or passports to be easily accessible. The Chairperson felt that the issue around immigration practitioners (IPs) was appropriate as this issue was tarnishing the name of Home Affairs. He stressed that Home Affairs would deal with the necessary steps to follow the law. He praised the Department for its good short-term and long-term proposals. He highlighted the major challenges as being economic migrates as opposed to refugees and he said that this needed to be understood and defined properly.

Mr M Mnqasela (DA) said that he thought that the Department had a very good approach. He further said that a review of recent oversight might be a good place to begin. He highlighted the issue of appeals as being a concern since there were only three members active in the appeals board. The amount of appeals that needed to pass the board must be large. He wanted to know how many appeals the board had to tackle and what the remedial plan for the filing system was. He also asked about making the board work better so as to synchronise efficiency.

Mr Mnqasela questioned the organisation of filing at the refugee centres and the time taken to complete the system. He made an example of double application: if a person could register at the Cape Town office of the Department of Home Affairs and move to Pretoria without having to apply again. He also suggested that instead of abolishing the immigration practitioners it might be better to try monitoring them aggressively in order to make sure that protocol was being followed. Thus the good immigration practitioners would not lose out. He agreed that proof should be required to prevent the use of bogus marriages as a fraudulent basis for permit applications.

Ms M Maunye (ANC) said that the Department was going in the right direction. She, like the Department, wanted to support the idea of abolishing immigration practitioners. She wondered if there was a merit system in place. She then supported the DNA test in respect of applicants’ children in South Africa and highlighted the problem raised by the Department about convenience marriage as one of the major issues when issuing permits.

Ms H Makhuba (IFP) welcomed the proposals of the Department. She agreed with Mr Apleni’s remark about there being too many visas and permits, as this creates problems. She advised that there should be ways of controlling this matter. She also added that immigration practitioners made more work for Home Affairs and that the removal of them in the Act would lessen backlogs in the future. She agreed that convenience marriages caused “innocent” marriages to suffer as it became harder to differentiate themt.

Ms T Gasebonwe (ANC) said that the Act needed to stipulate that DNA testing was required when adopting children. She also asked how adoptive children would be handled when taken in by families.

Ms P Maduna (ANC) brought up an issue of constitutions. She further went asked the Director General about the example of a spouse married in the Democratic Republic of Congo and who, upon residing in South Africa, was asked to remarry.

Mr Apleni addressed the issue of immigration practitioners first and said that this was still an idea that was being looked into and this would still be raised. He further went on to say that the Appeals Board needed to be reviewed and the expectation of its role assessed. In the instance of adoptive children, genuine court documentation needed to be produced at Home Affairs to avoid fraud and problems with issuance of new documents. Marriage was one of the major problems and the people getting married would need to come into the offices in person to have their pictures and fingerprints taken so that, if the process failed, evidence could be produced easily. Mr Apleni said that marriages were not conducted only at Home Affairs and that the Department was in the process of trying to close gaps.

Mr J McKay, Immigration Services, Department of Home Affairs, said that in the Congolese example all information and facts would be necessary in order to help in giving good advice. He discussed amended legislation concerning refugees. He said that there had been a new appointment of a chair of the appeals board and a further five members added to the board to help in implementing the amendments of 2008. He said that applications should be lodged in person at the Department so that all documents were accounted for.

Ms M Maunye (ANC) asked whether eye witnesses were still required to accompany a couple.  She also suggested that sound proof of identity be required.

Mr M Mnqasela (DA) wanted to know how many appeals there had been to date and about the time frame for the preparation of the filing system by the company to whom the work had been outsourced.

Mr Apleni replied that he would check if the requirements for witnesses were still in place.

Mr D Erasmus, Chief Director of Legal Services, Department of Home Affairs, interrupted and said that the witness programme was still in place

Mr McKay said that backlogs needed to be checked because the number was large. He had also said in the last week’s presentation that there was a figure mentioned for the backlog at the Refugee Centre. He further went on to say that the filing system would be completed by the end of this financial year.

Mr M Mnqasela (DA) asked what the backlog in resident permits was.

Mr J McKay said that the Department would provide figures in due course.

The Chairperson agreed that accurate information must be given and not estimates as research was necessary. He went on to say that input from members of the public and stakeholders was necessary.

Meeting was adjourned.

 

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