Zimbabwe Special Dispensation Permit: Department of Home Affairs update

Home Affairs

04 November 2014
Chairperson: Mr B Mashile (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) briefed the Committee on the background to and current situation with the Zimbabwe Special Dispensation Permits (ZSPs). It was noted that the Dispensation of Zimbabwe Project (DZP) was started in 2010, when it became clear that a special dispensation was needed to cope with the huge influx of people from Zimbabwe. The Department of Home Affairs had received a total of 294 511 applications, 242 731 were granted permits while 51 780 was either rejected or not finalised. On 12 August 2014, the Minister of Home Affairs announced the new Zimbabwe Special Dispensation Permit (ZSP), to replace the DZP. All DZP permits that were expiring before 31 December 2014 were to be extended until 31 December 2014 and those that expired after 31 December 2014 were being brought forward to be regularised also on that date. Any current DZP permit holders who wished to remain in South Africa could apply for ZSP. The requirements were a valid passport, proof of employment/proof of business registration and a proof of registration from a learning institution, in the case of students. The new ZSP would be valid from January 2015 to December 2017. Zimbabwean nationals travelling on expired DZP permits, but who were nonetheless able to prove that they had applied for the new permit, would not be declared undesirable or be arrested after 31 December 2014. A service provider, VFS, had been appointed, at no cost to the DHA, since its costs would come out of the handling fee of R870 that was paid upon application to VFS. The website of VFS was operational from 01 October 2014. It was stressed that the ZSP only catered for the 242 731approved and 51 870 that were rejected under the DZP process of 2010. At this stage it applied to Zimbabweans only and not to other foreigners. New offices had been established in all nine provinces to deal with the applications.

Members sought clarity whilst those who held expired permits would not be considered undesirable, and questioned what had happened to the 51 870 whose applications previously had been rejected, whether they were still in the country and why they were allowed to re-apply if their applications were rejected previously. They also asked, having heard a statement that some migrants had been charged with or accused of criminal actions, what was being done about their matters and where they were at the moment. Members also raised questions on whether this process would be opening up the floodgates to more migrants, what would be done for those who had lost documents, how people would be notified of the outcome of their application, and what the advantages and disadvantages of this system were. They suggested that perhaps tighter controls were needed at the borders, to protect the country from security and health risks, and that the agreements signed with other countries needed to be examined. They asked how the permit system was being communicated. Several questions were raised over those Zimbabweans who were holding fraudulent IDs and how the destruction of those IDs during that process would affect the lawful holders of the ID. Members asked whether the adjudication process could commence earlier and stressed the need to finalise the issues as soon as possible, and also asked if DHA was confident that it would meet the time scales. The work with other Departments and the Border Control Committee was outlined in response to some of the concerns. Members urged DHA to prepare itself for a last-minute rush, deal promptly with any unintended consequences that were raised, and continuously clean the national population register in the process.

Meeting report

Zimbabwe Special Dispensation Permit system: Department of Home Affairs briefing
Mr Jack Monedi, Chief Director: Permits, Department of Home Affairs, reported on the background to the Dispensation of the Zimbabwe Project (DZP) that was started in 2010, after substantial influx of Zimbabweans into South Africa. The Department of Home Affairs (DHA or the Department) announced that a special permitting system - the DZP permits - would be introduced. The DHA received a total of 294 511 applications,of which 242 731 were granted permits, whilst 51 780 were either rejected or not finalised. About 45 255 people would forgo asylum and refugee claims as they did not fall properly into either of these categories, but were in fact economic refugees. To date, the number of Zimbabweans who were denied permits because of positive criminal records was 6 211, and these people had contravened the Immigration Act, Drug legislation or traffic legislation, as well as being accused of theft, robbery, assault, fraud and dangerous drug dependency.

On 12 August 2014, the Minister of Home Affairs announced a new Zimbabwe Special Dispensation Permit (ZSP) system. The old system  would officially close on 31 December 2014. All DZP permits that were expiring before 31 December 2014 were extended until 31 December 2014, and those that expired after 31 December 2014 were being brought forward 31 December 2014. DZP permit holders who wished to remain in South Africa could apply for ZSPs. The requirements were a valid passport, proof of employment/proof of business registration, or, in the case of students, proof of registration from a learning institution. The ZSP would be valid from January 2015 to December 2017. Zimbabwean nationals travelling on expired DZP permits would not be declared undesirable or be arrested after 31 December 2014. A service provider, VFS, had been appointed at no cost to the DHA. A handling fee of R870 was paid upon application to VFS. The website of VFS was  www.vfsglobal.com/zsp/southafrica and it was was operational from 01 October 2014.

Mr Monedi stressed that the ZSP would only cater for the 242 731 approved and 51 870 people that were rejected after having applied for DZP in 2010. Ten facilitation centres in all nine provinces had been established to aid applicants to submit their applications and biometrics, from 01 November 2014 to 30 April 2015. By 31 October, VFS had received a total of 129 164 applications of which 91   401 had already booked for interviews.

The Chairperson wanted clarity on the statement that Zimbabweans with expired DZP permits would not be declared undesirable or be arrested after 31 December 2013. He asked whether this point alone was not suggesting that South Africa was not taking the dispensation seriously. He asked for the date on which DZP holders with expired permits would be apprehended. He asked what happened to the 51 870 applicants whose permits were rejected by DHA, and whether they were still in the country, or had been deported. He also asked if the ZSP allowed more Zimbabweans to enter South Africa now, or only catered for DZP holders .

Mr Monedi replied that ZSP applicants would have been captured by 31 December, but not all applications would have been approved. DHA would need proof that the person had applied, if asked to produce the permit, but that proof would prevent the person being arrested. DHA also had a database of DZP holders. The ZSP was only intended for DZP holders who took pains to trust the South African government to offer them protection, to continue to stay in South Africa at the initial stages. The question of what would happen to other Zimbabweans was a matter that the DHA had been considering for some time. The DZP application process required applicants to have applied by 31 December 2010, and then submit supporting documents later. However, some did not come to DHA to complete, and betrayed the gesture of DHA to regularise their stay in South Africa and this formed part of the 51 870 whose permits were not granted. If they were still in the country, they could now apply for ZSP. The DHA was not sure where they were, but the ZSP would unearth some of them. The ZSP was limited to those who had initially applied by December 2010.

Mr M Hoosen (DA) said it was not true that there was no cost to DHA. If VFS received 294 511 applicants that would amount to R255 million. He asked if ZSP was designed to generate revenue for VFS, stating that surely the DZP was mainly done because of political and economic instability in Zimbabwe. There was a problem of DZP holders being removed from the system during the application process, including those who applied and did not receive a DZP permit. He asked if there was a follow up on this. He asked how many ZSP permits had been approved thus far.

Ms N Mnisi (ANC) asked what happened to those who lost their documents. She asked why ZSP was only for current DZP holders and not for new applicants. She asked what method DHA used to notify applicants on the outcome of their applications.

Ms D Raphuti (ANC) asked about the pros and cons of the ZSP. Given that South Africa had many foreigners, she asked if the ZSP was not open to abuse.

Ms T Kenye (ANC) said the DHA should have provide a glossary of the acronyms HANIS, NPR and ASM. She asked what the consideration was behind making the ZSP expiry time three years compared to the four years of DZP. She asked when DZP holders could be declared undesirable. She asked why those rejected for DZP were being reconsidered again.

Mr A Figlan (DA) asked whether those with positive criminal records were convicted or awaiting trial. He asked why the appointments were lower than the number of people who applied to VFS.

Mr B Nesi (ANC) also asked when DZP holders could be declared undesirable, given that some foreigners were paid to commit crime in South Africa. He asked when DZP holders with expired permits would be deported or taken to refugee camps. He knew that most Zimbabweans in Grahamstown did not have permits. Most of them were talented artisans, brick layers and welders, and were very friendly to him, but they were undocumented. He asked what would happen to nationals from Somalia and Pakistanis who were without permits. If the DHA was unable to control the number of people migrating into this country, then he questioned how safely the country could be protected from the deadly disease of Ebola.

Ms S Nkomo (IFP) said there might be a need to look into the agreements that government had signed with other countries.  She asked if the decision to allow DZP holders to travel on expired permits was a DHA decision, or a government decision. She asked if there was a Memorandum of Understanding with VFS.

The Chairperson asked if DHA was doing any road shows to popularise the ZSP application process. He asked what happened to the Zimbabweans who came with fraudulent South African documents, if it was ever discovered where they had got them, whether the ID number would get cancelled, and if any South African citizen was disadvantaged when his/her ID number was cancelled due to fraud. DHA must work hard to ensure that it approved applications on time.

Mr Monedi replied the ZSP did not come at a cost to DHA, because it did not hire new staff, as had been the case in 2010 for DZP. VFS would recoup its costs from the handling fee of R870. There were some problems in the application process, but there was a will and indication that the process was running smoothly. The measure of success was being shown by the statistics given to the Committee on the applications, numbering 129 00 out of 294 00.

Mr Monedi explained that in the case of the 54 000 people who had not received their earlier permits, it had been decided that if a person came with a receipt that he applied in 2010 and did not receive a permit, he could still be considered. It was unfair for DHA to block out those who were rejected in 2010, because this might not have been through their own mistake, but the administrative inefficiencies of the DHA system that it was running in 2010. DHA was giving them the benefit of doubt. They would have a reference number received in 2010.

He added that DHA had not issued any ZSP yet but would start adjudicating from 10 November as supporting documents will have been received by that date. DHA will keep the Committee updated. DHA was not going to take time to issue the permits as the process was simplified. The supporting documents and requirements were easier than when issuing other visas and permits. The country was not opening up for other Zimbabweans and other nationalities, because South Africa could not afford to take everyone. Those that lost their documents must go to the Zimbabwe High Commissioner or Embassy to apply for a new passport. DHA had been working with the Zimbabwe High Commissioner well since 2010, and it was agreed that no Zimbabwean will apply for a DZP without a passport. VFS used a SMS system to alert applicants on the outcome of applications. Applicants could also trace he progress the status of application online on the VFS website.

Mr Monedi emphasised that the DHA was regularising records to know who was in South Africa. In 2010, academics and researchers estimated that they were 3 million Zimbabweans in South Africa. In any country, it was difficult to establish the number of illegal migrants. Through regularising their stay, DHA would be able to know the number of Zimbabweans in South Africa. The disadvantage of this was the effect on social services like health which must be provided based on international conventions, and the right to protect foreigners when they enter South Africa. Zimbabweans had been prioritised just as a way of dealing with illegal migration. In future, similar initiatives might be introduced to cater for, for instance, the Somalis and the Mozambicans. The Members were aware that the ZDP was introduced as a result of the 2008 political and socio economic conditions in Zimbabwe which made South Africa attractive because of its geo political position in the region.

DHA did not know whether those with positive criminal records were arrested or if they were in jail. It would be working with the Departments of Correctional Services and Police to get more details.

He explained that the people who booked for interviews were lower than the number of applicants because initially there was a clock in the system when applicants were making telephonic calls. The system was easing now in response to the pressure and VFS had increased the number of call centre staff to 70, working from Monday to Saturday until 5pm.

The problem of illegal immigration in South Africa arose because the attractiveness of the economy compared to other African states. Through the Department and the Border Control divisions, there was now a Border Management Agency, to consolidate the work of all relevant departments in the ports environment and to ensure that there was one central command. The SA Defence Forces had been deployed to manage borderlines where people used informal crossings to come into South Africa. Illegal migration in South Africa was a serious problem and DHA would need to expand its staff significantly to deal with this problem.

He reminded the Committee that the ZSP permits must be concluded by 30 April 2015. DHA also needs to take advantage of the learning curve of 2010 where it took three years to conclude ZDP. South Africa did have labour agreements with neighbouring countries dating back to the 1960s, where South Africa was using migrants to grow the economy.

Mr Monedi confirmed that DHA was popularising the ZDP. Thus far, it had had three meeting with Zimbabwe stakeholders’ forum. It was working with AgriSA to assist in spreading the message. It was planning town hall meetings. Ministers also urged DHA to target shopping malls, as most Zimbabweans worked in the hospitality industry.

DHA had cancelled IDs that were obtained fraudulently and in the application for the ZSP, the Home Affairs National Identification System (HANIS) was being used to ensure that no Zimbabweans obtained fraudulent documents so that DHA cleaned up the National Population Register. When some had been asked where they got the documents, they replied that they were desperate to regularise their stay in South Africa, as having no ID prevented them from enjoying banking and health services. When the government opened up for them, through the ZDP, they openly surrendered the documents that they had acquired fraudulently.

The Chairperson asked if DHA was ready to issue permits to those that were compliant given that VFS applications had a deadline of 31 December, and DHA set itself a deadline of 30 April 2015.

Mr Monedi said the applications were to be lodged by due 31 December and DHA started the adjudication process on 10 November. The leadership of the DHA had indicated that the ZSP must be concluded by 30 April. By end of November, VFS will have captured most of the applications. DHA could not yet answer definitely when it would have considered all applications.

Mr Richard Stols, Acting Deputy Director General: Immigration Services, DHA, said there was a cost to the DHA in terms of adjudication. The appointment of VFS had taken away a huge infrastructure cost, security and reception requirements. DHA was now doing things efficiently. The reception costs were taken away, as also a lot of infrastructure obligations to support the ZSP. What DHA would have to do was to ensure that the adjudication process and checking that the applications received were indeed genuine. 2010 had taught DHA a valuable lesson and VFS had taken away some of the obligations of DHA. Through regularising the Zimbabweans, the country will be able to know who was in the country. Even if people changed their names, the use of biometrics avoided double dipping. To be able to access to services such as banking and health, the migrants needed documents and that was the reason of trying to regularise the Zimbabwean immigrants. DHA knew that South Africa was an attractive destination for those running away from war, and for economic migrants. DHA was engaging with the government and the academia on how it could try to manage the migration process better.

Ms Nkomo asked where people could report undesirable foreigners engaging in criminal activities. She asked if there was coordination between the Departments of Home Affairs and Police in seeking out foreign nationals engaging in criminal activities. 

Mr Hoosen said the VFS website was making a turnaround promise of eight weeks. He asked if this was a promise from DHA or VFS, and whether DHA was able to meet the deadline. In 2010, there were some people who applied for the ZDP permits and never got them. The question now was why DHA had not yet started with the adjudication process. He also asked what would happen to those people whose applications were rejected, as there was no appeal process mentioned.

The Chairperson asked if there were cases of Zimbabweans accessing legitimate South Africa IDs and forging the image, or having photocopies inserted, claiming that these were genuine. If that person now wanted to apply for the dispensation, he was worried that the ID would be cancelled, to the disadvantage of the genuine owner of that document.

Mr Monedi replied that DHA checked with its inspectorate all foreigners who had accessed South African IDs and cancelled those IDs. In the process, genuine South Africans were affected. However, this problem was prevalent ten years ago. For people with duplicate IDs, DHA was cleaning the national population register. The modernisation project in the DHA was to eliminate fraudulent IDs. DHA was taking biometrics of foreigners to cross-reference with the South African database, to ensure that there was no foreigner who claimed to be South African.

He noted that the eight weeks was the DHA published turnaround time and DHA was confident that it will meet this. ZSP was not a complex process, because DHA knew the population it was dealing with. Secondly, it was an automated process, rather than the manual process of 2010. DHA had confidence of authority and staff had been reserved to deal with the ZSP. DHA had tested the entire value chain system and the system had shown that come 10 November, DHA would be able to start adjudication. There was no appeal process because ZSP had relaxed the requirements so that every Zimbabwean should be able to meet them. If a person had a criminal record, DHA could not renew his/her permit. If a person could not confirm that he/she was employed, then also the application must be rejected. The relaxed requirements already applied, yet the country’s benevolence must not be treated as a free-for- all if somebody could not meet the relaxed requirements. The objective of road shows was to meet Zimbabweans and explain to them the ZSP application process.

He confirmed further that, when dealing with illegal migration, DHA worked with other law enforcement agencies and was part of the security cluster. There was collaboration with the Departments of Defence and Police when dealing with illegal migration. The SAPS was the port of reference to report any illegal activities committed by foreigners.

The Chairperson said DHA must be ready for a last minute rush for applicants for the ZSP. There was a need to appreciate the progress made so far by Zimbabweans in applying for ZSP. The DHA must accelerate the adjudication process as soon as applicants complied with the ZSP requirements. DHA must attend promptly to any unintended consequences that may arise during the ZSP process. The DHA must continuously clean the national population register. It must have capacity for the adjudication process to be able to fast track the application for ZSP permits.

The meeting was adjourned.

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