Plans to address backlogs in Immigration (permitting section), refugee and civic services; with Deputy Minister
14 March 2023
Chairperson: Mr M Chabane (ANC)
The Committee met on a virtual platform to by briefed by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) on the measures it was implementing to eliminate the application backlogs affecting its immigration permitting, civic services and refugee appeals operations.
The DHA placed a large part of the blame for the backlogs on the effect of the Covid-19 shutdown, when they had to scale down on employees and could not take applications because there was no international travel, although corruption had also contributed to blockages in the permitting system. There was also the challenge of adjudicators who did not have legal training. They asserted that huge volumes of the backlog had been reduced due to the interventions that had been made. Whilst the backlog was still there, if one looked at the volumes that had been cleared, the progress was quite good.
Officials of the Department gave detailed presentations on the backlog situation regarding applications for permanent residence permits (PRPs) and temporary residence visas (TRVs). On average, more than 350 TRV applications and 50 PRP applications were coming to the head office daily. They forecast that with 16 adjudicators handling 112 applications per day, it would take 360 working days to clear the PRP backlog of 40 365. To deal with the TRV backlog, 23 adjudicators normally handled ten applications daily, which meant it would take 329 working days to clear the backlog of 75 814. However, on average, the number of applications received for TRVs per day was 7 700 per month, or 92 400 per year. With its current capacity, the Department could not finalise this volume within the expected turnaround time.
The Refugee Appeals Authority of South Africa (RAASA) said its main challenge was keeping track of appellants in order to serve Notices of Hearing. This affected and slowed down the adjudication process and finalisation of appeals. However, through its Section 22 permit renewal mechanism, the DHA, was able to block asylum seekers from renewing their permits on its system, which now notified the appellant to report to RAASA before the system could generate a renewed Section 22 permit. RAASA was now receiving a significant number of appellants coming through to acknowledge receipt and access to service across all of its five regions, so it was now able to successfully update appellants’ contact details and serve them with Notices of Hearing in person, and have them acknowledge receipt as per the court’s standards.
Members' main concerns were that the measures that had been implemented, or would be introduced, were inadequate to bring about a timeous reduction in the backlogs. Other issues highlighted were the need for the DHA to digitise its processes, to strengthen its links with the hospitals to ensure quicker registration of births, fill vacancies in priority areas, and for the Department help the Members to deal with complaints from the community by responding to their requests for information.
The Chairperson said the Committee was going to interface on the overall review of the immigration laws. This would also assist them in responding to a number of immigration services issues and overcoming some of the obstacles that the country and Members were facing, particularly given the Department’s struggles with resolving some issues timeously. This overall review of the immigration laws would give them the opportunity to reset their focus in terms of the issues that they had identified.
The Chairperson welcomed Members and the delegations from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), specifically Immigration Services (IS) and Civic Services (CS), as well as the delegation from the Refugee Appeals Authority of South Africa (RAASA).
The ministerial delegation from the DHA consisted of Mr Nzuza Njabulo, Deputy Minister, with apologies given for the absence of Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Home Affairs, who was away dealing with urgent matters. Other DHA officials in attendance were Mr Tommy Makhode, Director-General (DG), Mr Yusuf Simons, Acting Deputy Director-General: Immigration Services (ADDG:IS) and Mr Thomas Sigama, Deputy Director-General: Civic Services (DDG:CS). The RAASA delegation was led by its Chairperson, Adv Zilpha Raphesu.
The main purpose of this meeting was for the Committee to be briefed by the DHA on plans to address backlogs in the was (permitting section) and CS, and by RAASA on the progress made in addressing backlogs in the processing of refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa (SA), especially on appeals.
The Chairperson said the Committee had noted the letter on naturalisation issues referred by the Speaker, and had resolved that the Committee Secretary would write a letter for the attention of the Deputy Minister to follow up on certain issues outlined in it. The Deputy Minister would provide a brief on the follow up at the next Committee meeting
Deputy Minister’s introductory remarks
Deputy Minister Nzuza introduced the delegations from the various sections of the DHA and RAASA, and said the team would be dealing primarily with the issue of backlogs as they pertained to permitting, civic services and refugee appeals.
In terms of permitting, the backlog in applications was really driven by COVID-19, mainly because was had to scale down on employees and could not take applications because there was no international travel. This would be discussed in further detail by ADDG Simons.
Issues of corruption have also contributed to blockages in the permitting system. The Committee would remember that a team had been set up to look at issues of permitting and they indicated broad corruption that was occurring there.
The presentation would deal with the extent of the backlogs at the various levels. There was not an overall backlog -- there had been continued adjudication and approval processes -- so the Committee would be taken through the various categories, indicating at which levels the backlogs were concentrated.
It was important to note that about 70% of the backlog was for spousal and family visas, which were not categories that mainly attracted investment and had limited positive impact on the economy. The DHA had thus tended to prioritise the others that had an impact.
There was also the challenge of adjudicators who did not have legal training, whilst the environment they worked in needed legal training, for them to make prudent decisions whilst adjudicating. The DHA had trained a number of legally competent adjudicators who would now start their work in the next two weeks. They would also be getting more in June, as their personnel based in foreign missions would be returning and they would be able to plug them into the system to increase the DHA's in-country capacity.
Huge volumes of the backlog had been reduced as a result of the interventions that had been made. Whilst the backlog was still there, the progress was quite good if one looks at the volumes that had been cleared.
Regarding the CS, the Department had millions of civic paper records, which made it very difficult to process some applications because they had to go into the files manually to make amendments or finalise unabridged birth certificates. The DHA had employed 2 000 young people as part of the digitisation programme, and was going to be increasing this number to 10 000 youths for the digitisation project. This would help digitise those records, making it very easy to process applications at the back end. They would digitise the records over three years as part of the medium-term solution.
One of the immediate decisions that the Department took was to deploy human capacity of over 200 people to CS when they received funding from Treasury as part of their capacitation programme. This was why one would notice that civic services had greatly improved in how they offered their services. DDG Sigama had been requested to focus specifically on the back end of things to push through the backlogs, and he would be able to give all the necessary figures on the progress.
Regarding refugee appeals, it was important to note that the backlog in the refugee management system was not related to new applications. It was not as if they were no longer processing refugee applications -- the issue was around appeals, which came from people who had been declined. There was a backlog of about 153 000. When the DHA partnered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), they had agreed to give the Department 36 members, but they ultimately got only 26 members to help with the appeals. The UNHCR has since come back and indicated that the additional ten members would no longer be availed. However, they were proceeding with the members that they had to push through these backlogs.
The biggest problem since last year was with the large number of refugees who did not turn up for the hearings of their appeals, but rather opted to go to asylum seeker management to try and renew or extend the validity of their asylum permits. The Department was now partnering with the asylum seeker management on these cases to divert these individuals back to RAASA and sit for their appeals, so that adjudicated decisions could be taken, as opposed to them continuing to renew the validity of their permits.
Immigration Services on permit and visa backlog eradication
Mr Yusuf Simons, ADDG: IS, said the purpose of the presentation was to provide the Committee with an update on the status of the backlogs for permanent residence permits (PRPs) and temporary residence visas (TRVs) and applications.
Before getting into the contents of the presentation and the backlogs, it was important for the Committee to note that there were other backlogs the Department had experienced about three or four months ago, which had since been eradicated.
The first one was the investment drive project which was very prominent in the media. They had been approached by the Presidency, and had applications from missions that had to be finalised at their head office in Pretoria. There was a backlog of 3 000 of these applications, which directly affected economic growth. They had a request to assist big business on this, so the DHA put their resources into this and in three months, had finalised 3 090 applications.
On the E-visa, the Department had a significant backlog. They had finalised almost 12 000 applications and had only 793 current applications, so there was no longer a backlog in this area.
They had also launched a pilot project for the E-visa with Nigeria, and had 5 257 of these backlog applications, most of which had been finalised as well, as they had only 197 current applications.
The other Project that the DHA was busy with was study visas. As at 16 February, they had 7 000 applications. They had finalised about 4 000 of these, and the remainder would be finalised before the end of March. This was important, because the Department did not want to deny students and learners the opportunity to study.
Backlogs in PRP and TRV applications
Explaining the backlog, Mr Simons said that under the Disaster Management Regulations due to the Covid19 pandemic, capacity levels within the permitting unit were vastly reduced due to the requirements of social distancing. This contributed to the low processing output, and thus a growing backlog. This also contributed to the accumulation of a new backlog because applications for both TRVs and PRPs had been suspended, but once the suspension was lifted, a huge influx of applications was experienced, thus contributing to the increased backlog.
Also, subsequent to the findings of irregularities by the Lubisi Report involving both inland and foreign missions’ applications, the Department implemented strict measures to curb corruption. Consequently, delegations were revised, with increased quality assurance and approval level requirements being implemented on 12 January 2022, which affected processing speeds. The capacity at the permitting unit was also affected by suspensions involving four senior officials and two dismissals.
Regarding the current status, Mr Simons said the "conveyor belt" of visa and permit applications did not stop. More than 350 TRV applications and 50 PRP applications were coming to the head office daily, on average. TRVs were considered to be in a backlog situation if they were not processed within eight weeks, whilst PRP applications were considered to be in a backlog if they were not processed within eight months.
For PRPs, the total applications older than eight months stood at 40 365 as of 1 March. There had been 9 145 applications within the past eight-month cycle, so the total, including the backlog, amounted to 49 529.
TRV applications older than eight weeks amount to 55 172 as of 1 March. There had been 20 642 applications received within the past eight weeks, so the total, including the backlog, amounted to 75 814.
There were 16 PRP adjudicators in the central adjudication hub, but currently, only eight were adjudicating PRP applications daily, with the other eight working on E-Visas. Each adjudicator normally made seven applications per day which, over five working days, amounted to 35 per week per adjudicator, or a total of 280 applications processed per week.
However, 18 additional adjudicators had been appointed as of 1 March, and were currently on training until 31 March. They would be deployed to the E-Visa hub on 3 April to assist with new applications received, so the eight adjudicators who had been seconded to E-Visa adjudication would return to the PRP section. Mr Simons forecasted that with 16 adjudicators handling 112 applications per day, it would take 360 working days to clear the backlog of 40 365.
Turning to the TRV backlog, he said there were 23 adjudicators in the central adjudication hub, each of whom normally handled ten applications. In a five-day week, they would process 1 150 applications. Realistically, this meant it would take 329 working days to clear the backlog of 75 814. However, the number of applications received for TRVs per day was on average 7 700 per month, or 92 400 per year. With the current capacity, the Department could not finalise this volume within the expected turnaround time.
- Staff had been seconded from the provinces and head office to assist at various levels of adjudication.
- A PRP committee was established during 2022 to assist with finalising applications and strengthen the quality of decisions.
- The Department had implemented operational management, which entailed daily meetings and monitoring of work to ensure staff were meeting their daily targets. Data analysis and reconciliation to monitor targets were also done on a weekly basis, where a weekly dashboard was compiled and presented to management to monitor targets and keep track of the backlogs.
- The draft amended delegations and standard operating procedures had been submitted for approval, which was expected by the end of March 2023.The reviewed delegations (from January 2022) had now been further amended due to the control measures put in place to strengthen the verification process. This amended delegation and standard operating procedure (SOP) would ensure quality assurance at all levels. The amendments of the delegation would reduce TRV levels to two (from the current four) and the PRP would be reduced to 4 levels (from the current 6). With the amendment of the delegations and the regulations, the SOPS would be revised accordingly to ensure alignment. A workshop for adjudicators to familiarise them with the amended delegations and SOPs would also be held.
- Additionally, regulations had been amended to include the recommendations from the Vulindlela report, and were currently being finalised by the legal team.
- The Department was also currently undertaking the process of overhauling the immigration policy to address the abuse of the Visa regime.
Additional interventions from 3 April
- The Department was currently training 61 DHA officials for foreign office deployment. Their three-month training would end on 31 March.
- Official deployment to a mission was on 1 July. The Department intended to use all 61 of the trainees (29 for PRP and 32 for TRV) from 11 April to 15 June to assist with the backlogs.
- Utilising the 61 foreign office deployment staff for a period of 60 days would reduce the backlog at adjudication and provide first level quality assurance.
- An assessment would be done in the first week of May, and staff would be seconded to the preceding adjudication levels accordingly.
It was anticipated that with the use of the foreign office staff and the current staff, they would clear the backlog in 15 months, ending June next year.
RAASA presentation on appeals backlog
Adv Zilpha Raphesu, Chairperson of RAASA, said the presentation would update the Committee on the progress made in addressing backlogs in processing refugee/asylum seekers' appeals.
She said RAASA was an independent statutory body whose primary mandate was to consider all the appeals made against the decisions of the Refugee Status Determination Officers (RSDOs), specifically those that had been rejected on the basis of being ‘unfounded’.
RAASA functioned as a quasi-judicial entity. Its appeal adjudication process was based on the fundamental legal principle known as the audi alteram partem rule – to listen to the other side. This requirement formed the basis of two requirements of natural justice: procedural fairness, and the rule of being heard before an independent and “uninterested” adjudicator. A legally qualified member of RAASA sits as an adjudicator/decision-maker over an appeal.
The hearing of appeal cases entailed the following:
- RAASA issues a Notice of Hearing, with a set down date to the appellant. This was sent to their last known address, and the appellant must then acknowledge receipt of the notice.
- The appellant was notified of his/her right to legal representation and to an interpreter. RAASA also provides interpretation services through the DHA.
- Prior to the hearing, the appellant was given an opportunity to submit further evidence and heads of argument to RAASA.
- On the date of the hearing, RAASA conducts a procedurally fair hearing and may also invite a representative of the UNHCR to sit in on the appeal hearing.
Challenge of notifying appellants and progress made
It was against this background that RAASA previously presented to the Committee the challenges in successfully serving these Notices of Hearing to appellants, and how this had affected and slowed down the adjudication process and finalisation of appeals.
However, together with the DHA, RAASA had successfully employed a working strategy to ensure that appellants receive and acknowledge these notices. In particular, the DHA, through its Section 22 permit renewal mechanism, was able to block asylum seekers from renewing their permits on its system. The system now notifies the appellant to report to RAASA before the system could generate a renewed Section 22 permit.
RAASA was now receiving a significant number of appellants coming through to acknowledge receipt and access to service across all of its five regions, so it was now able to successfully update appellants’ contact details and serve them with Notices of Hearing in person, and have them acknowledge receipt as per the court’s standards.
This milestone would enable RAASA to continue to proceed with finalising appeal cases even in the event that the appellant did not attend their hearing as scheduled, since in the event that the appellant failed to honour his/her appearance before RAASA, a member may proceed to determine the appeal on paper.
As a result, for the first time since the implementation of the backlog project, RAASA members were now hearing about three to four appeal cases per day.
The two main contributors to the backlog were:
The high inflow of economic migrants:
The year 2009 signified the highest peak of influx of asylum seekers into South Africa. This influx was due to the 2008 economic meltdown which many countries experienced. South Africa also experienced a recession, but Zimbabwe was the hardest hit with a near economic collapse in this region. For the first time, South Africa received asylum seekers in such numbers that the system could not meet the demand.
Additionally, there was currently no legislation dealing with economic migrants, and as such, their significant numbers created a further bottleneck for appeals adjudication. Further, international treaties and conventions on asylum seekers and refugees did not have legislation to deal with economic migrants either. Without a legislative framework for economic migrants, they were dealt with similarly under the Refugees Act, creating a further bottleneck.
The former Refugees Act
This specifically involved the quorum constitution requirement of the Refugee Appeal Board (RAB), which led to the Western Cape High Court's decision of Harerimana v Chairperson of the Refugee Appeal Board and Others.
The legislation created an unending bureaucratic ladder of appeal/review processes which were now highly abused by failed/rejected asylum seekers and their legal representatives. Every failed asylum seeker would appeal their rejection outcome because the system allowed for it! Thus, this backlog was not due to capacity constraints or incompetence on the part of RAASA, contrary to the popular view.
Further, the RAB, as it then was, was subjected to unprecedented numbers of failed asylum seekers emanating from Refugee Status Determination Officer (RSDO) decisions, which amplified the backlog.
The Backlog Project
Adv Raphesu said a multi-year partnership agreement between the UNHCR, the DHA, and RAASA was signed on 8 March 2021. The signing of the partnership agreement paved the way for implementing Plan 2019, which was the ultimate roadmap to guide the implementation of the Backlog Project. The date of 8 March was significant for the Project, marking two years since the implementation of Plan 2019.
Given the rising number of appeals against RSDO decisions, which largely accounted for the current appeal backlog at RAASA, this cooperation agreement aimed to eradicate the backlog in appeal cases and prevent similar backlogs from recurring through the provision of capacity support to RAASA. The total cost of the four-year implementation plan with a 36-member component was R146.8 million.
Even though RAASA had continued to pursue its primary mandate of considering all the appeals made against the decisions of the RSDO diligently, there had been considerable hurdles along the way. In terms of the Project Plan, a 36-member component had been envisaged. RAASA had recruited 26 legally qualified members at the inception of the Backlog Project, but the recruitment of the remaining ten members had remained stagnant due to the UNHCR’s budget constraints. The appointed members were trained throughout 2021 in batches, as they were not appointed simultaneously.
The Project did not get underway until April 2021 due to delays, largely caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Authority conducted its very first hearing in December 2021.
Remaining hurdles and progress on overcoming them:
RAASA presented to the Committee on 20 September 2022. Amongst other issues put before the Committee were the challenges it faced which had delayed the smooth running of the Project. RAASA had, in the past five-month period, successfully eradicated some of these challenges and it was continuing to do so.
- Digitalisation of files
RAASA had previously reported that 11 818 files had been digitised for the Backlog Project. Currently, the number of digitised files is standing at 17 940 across all the regions.
In line with the project partnership agreement in January 2023, the UNHCR donated two scanning machines for digitalisation. This would increase the volume of scanned files.
- Capacitation of RAASA
As stated earlier, the complete project component of members should be 36. However, RAASA only recruited 26 members and was currently operating with only 21 because one had died, two were incapacitated, one had resigned and one was on a part-time contract.
Pending recruitment processes include appointing a project manager who would coordinate the Backlog Project and appointing four refugee appeal officers or case workers to assist the members administratively in other regions. All these positions had been advertised and the process to fill them had started.
There had been a successful recruitment for RAASA at its head office, as the daily operations were without sufficient administrative support.
RAASA received 12 interns from the Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority (SASSETA) in all its five regions, to assist the Project with its day-to-day administrative work.
RAASA also intended to recruit five legal secretaries to support members to speed up the writing of decisions.
- Adjudication Strategy
As more appeal files were being digitalised, RAASA adopted the following adjudication strategies which would assist in decreasing the backlog:
- Prioritising appeals by nationals emanating from refugee non-producing countries decommissioned by the UNHCR.
- Introducing performance-based targets to improve performance and accountability. Additionally, statistical reports were implemented, including weekly dashboards to track productivity. As such, information on the volumes of finalised decisions came in from members in all the different regions.
- As noted earlier, it was also within the mandate of RAASA to make paper determinations as an adjudication strategy, instead of in-person hearings in certain circumstances.
- Background on cases forming the backlog:
According to the National Immigration Information System (NIIS), as at the implementation of the Plan in 2019, the pending appeal cases before RAASA stood at 153 000. However, through a mechanism that was put in place to determine which of the finalised cases were still part of the Backlog Project and inactive cases, the number had decreased by 19 418 appeal cases. The Project's scope was then ring-fenced on the remaining pending active appeals, which amounted to 133 582 and constituted the total number of all appeal cases forming the backlog.
- Number of cases streamlined by members and hearings scheduled:
As of 2021, RAASA began allocating digitalised files to members for streaming and recommendations of an appropriate adjudication approach towards finalising each case. To date, more than 6 700 cases have been allocated to members for review and over 4 700 hearings have been scheduled.
- Number of hearings conducted to date and number of finalised decisions:
Members had conducted 1 285 hearings, with the total number of finalised decisions sitting at 1196, where 810 were decisions on ‘heard appeals’, and the rest were either ‘paper decisions’ (183), ‘no show decisions’ (17) or ‘section 3C decisions on paper’ (186).
- Cancelled and withdrawn appeals:
There had been 3 545 cancellations/withdrawals, so the grand total of finalised decisions, including the cancellations/withdrawals, was 4 741.
Additional Interventions to reduce the backlog:
- Group decisions:
The RAASA may make a ruling regarding its Practice Note that would allow for two or more appeals to be determined together. This would be in the cases where:
- A similar question of law or fact arises.
- Asylum seekers were members of the same family.
- It was practical and efficient to proceed with more than one appeal.
- Adjudication of new appeals:
Some members would be assigned to deal with new incoming appeals to avoid recurring backlogs once the Project Backlog had been finalised.
Regarding decision writing, e-files were being implemented as they would allow members to write efficiently in almost any location, as long as they had a laptop to work from.
A case management system has also been developed.
A live online system had been finalised, and was still being tested by DHA’s information technology (IT) directorate. It would be able to even better track productivity of the adjudication process, automatically update statistics, and monitor overall performance across all the regions.
Civil Services on permit and visa backlog eradication
Mr Thomas Sigama, DDG:CS, briefed the Committee on the Department’s plan to address the back office backlog for civic services.
He said that in 1994, South Africa had inherited a segregated civil registration system. Since then, the Department had been trying to de-racialise the ethnically fragmented apartheid system of citizenship and build a common National Population Register, based on the principles of restorative justice and one unitary state. As a result, the racial birth registration and citizenship policies were amongst the first to be dismantled and replaced to restore the dignity of the South African people.
Decolonisation of civil registration followed a three-phased approach:
- Colonialism (1895 to 1960),
- Apartheid (1961 to 1993) and
- Democratic South Africa (1994 to date).
The amalgamation of Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei (the TBVC states), self-governing territories and South Africa posed a major challenge in the administration of records within the DHA. Consequently, across all the repositories where CS records were kept -- which were mainly manual and made the retrieval of records extremely labour-intensive -- there were 392.9 million records, which excluded the records in provinces.
Additionally, the post-apartheid civil registration process still followed the manual approach, which was paper-based.
All of these records were now being dealt with as part of the digitisation project which would reduce the time spent on retrieving records.
Mr Sigama described some of the benefits of digitisation the records, commenting that considering the mandate of the branch and impact of what it did for the lives of people as well as the economy, digitisation was important as it would:
- Enable faster access to information when needed.
- Give employees the capacity to rapidly discover information to provide clients and citizens with services they need in a timely manner.
- Increase the productivity of employees and help all departments of the DHA to operate faster.
- Lower operational costs, as printing, preserving and keeping paper documents was expensive. In the event of a disaster such as fire or floods, paper may be destroyed, leading to a loss of valuable information.
- Improve security, in that it could assist in better control of sensitive information about citizens.
Backlogs at the back office:
The CS faces high volumes of complaints concerning the timeous delivery of products, as well as complaints from front offices and members of the public. In June 2022, the branch identified areas where backlogs existed, and the level of those backlogs:
- Unabridged birth certificates (UBC) - 219 263
- Unabridged Marriage certificates (UMC) - 9 392
- Unabridged Death certificates (UDC) - 2 240
- Amendments minor birth certificates - 90 269
- Amendments Major - 11 882
- Duplicates - 1 093
Fifteen areas were identified as areas that required intervention to address these backlogs, and an implementation plan was developed to address these areas requiring intervention.
Implementation plans to address backlogs:
The Bevolkingsregister (BVR) building's storage facility had reached capacity:
- Create space for newly received records from front offices by identifying records not transacted with frequently.
- Source service provider for removal of records.
- Movement of records to the identified storage.
- Locate a central records storage facility where all manual/ paper-based records could be stored.
Bottlenecks in workflow process for Amendments Minor:
- Implement track and trace at critical monitoring areas.
- Perform diagnostic analysis on Amendment Minors and Majors to determine areas which delay the finalisation of applications.
Non-compliant applications received at back office to resolve duplicates e.g. copies of identity documents (IDs), birth certificates etc:
- Distribute weekly error report on non-compliant applications to provinces.
- Call-in letters and telephone calls were frequently made to the clients and through offices to submit additional required documents, prolonging the process due to clients not responding on time.
No UDC/UMC on the spot.
- IS to develop system to issue UDCs and UMCs on the spot.
- IS to develop pre-modification functions for UDCs and UMCs
- Develop change requests for the system to link duplicate applications captured, using an ID number and date of birth to close both applications when finalised.
- Close vault applications upon finalising.
- Re-arrange 96051 batches from 93 shelves (19 210 200).
Fixing of death records' indexing system (template system):
- Develop a new template system.
- Develop functionality for drawing of reports by CS on batch header and user statistics.
Lack of automation of marriage and death registration system:
- IS to develop and roll out live capture system for marriage and death registration.
About 100 000 marriage records (500 batches) not templated:
- Index remaining balance of unindexed records.
Uncollected Smart ID cards in front offices:
- Create public awareness regarding the disposal of uncollected Smart ID Cards (SIDCs) after one year.
- IS to perform status analysis (dead/alive).
- Recalling uncollected SIDCs of deceased persons from front offices.
- IS to establish a mechanism to deface SIDCs for deceased persons.
- Identify records that cannot be finalised due to outstanding records.
- Training of identified officials and allocation of functions.
- Identify officials to draw records for finalisation.
Human resource capacity (staff shortages):
- CS-identified staff members within the back office, where employer-initiated transfers could be done.
- Immediate advertisement of positions that became vacant, with effect from 1 April 2022.
- Include Civic Services back office in prioritised posts by funding and filling critical positions.
Collapsed Electronic Document Management System (EDMS):
- Find a mechanism to retrieve data stored on the old Dubox hardware.
- Service provider would be appointed to try to recover the documents from the old equipment.
Inaccessible phase 2 records digitised by Stats SA:
- IS and Stats SA to change the file format of Phase 2 digitised records to make them accessible.
Ineffective automated birth registration system (live capture):
- Investigate inefficiencies and resolve.
- Roll out live capture birth registration to all offices and health facilities where the DHA had connectivity.
Progress made against the implementation plan:
Births, marriages, deaths, amendments, rectifications and duplicates:
- The branch had managed to finalise all 9 392 UMCs, 2 240 UDCs, 90 269 Amendments Minor, 11 882 Amendments Major and 1,093 duplicates' backlog.
- Out of the 105 480 UBC backlog identified, 79 053 had been finalised, with a remaining balance of 26 427.
- Additional capacity of 200 personnel had been sourced to assist in retrieving manual records from various archives to conclude the backlog.
- Digitisation would serve as a solution to assist in automating the birth registration process, which would ultimately result in the issuance of birth certificates on the spot.
- The Department continued to connect health facilities to allow parents to register births before leaving the health facilitates. So far, 161 were connected, of which 41 were of priority 1, and 120 were a combination of priorities 2 & 3.
Digitisation of records:
- Infrastructure space had been secured around Tshwane, serving as digitisation hubs where records would be digitised. Refurbishment of the space to convert them into digitisation hubs was underway.
- Delivery had been taken of equipment -- laptops, printers, and scanners -- that would be used to digitise records.
- A total of 1 272 unemployed youth had been on-boarded and had undergone training to assist with digitisation.
Human resource capacity:
- A total of 652 posts had been funded and advertised to capacitate front offices as part of phase 1 of the business case. The filling of these positions was underway.
- The branch was also in the process of re-prioritising lower-level positions that had become vacant through natural attrition, to fund critical management positions.
- Overtime was also used to assist in tackling the backlog.
- The Department was in the processes of concluding phase 2 of the business case which would ultimately increase capacity to 60%.
- A total of 1154 430 late registrations of birth and marriage records had been transferred to the Rosslyn records facility.
- 96 051 batches (19 210 200 records) in the BVR storage facility had been re-arranged to address the issue of misfiling.
- All 100 000 marriage records (500 batches) which were not indexed (templated) were now indexed.
- Full access had been made available to the phase 2 digitised records by Stats SA. In total, the DHA now had access to 3 173 254 digitised records, inclusive of phase 1 digitised records. Whilst awaiting the bigger digitisation project, the Department continuously collaborated with Stats SA.
- The DHA was currently piloting the automation of birth registrations through live capture.
- The death records indexing system (template system) has been fixed.
- System deficiencies around duplicate vault/UBC applications had been resolved, as the system could now link duplicate applications captured using an ID number and date of birth to close both applications when finalised, and to remove/close finalised vault copies.
- Gaps had been identified in the National Population Register and the live capture system to allow automation in the civic services environment. This formed part of the Department’s annual performance plan for the 2023/24 financial year.
Ms M Molekwa (ANC) hoped that with all the remedial action, together with the plan of action indicated in the presentations regarding the backlogs, would work and that the Committee would continuously be updated regarding any progress or challenges that may arise.
She asked whether these plans of action presented across the various presentations would be able to help the Department to achieve eradication of the relevant backlogs.
Mr G Hendricks (Al Jama-ah) said he was grateful for the leadership that brought these important matters to the Portfolio Committee. His parliamentary constituency offices had been inundated with issues around this, but he was very impressed with the passion for resolving the backlogs which the officials had indicated. Despite their best endeavours, work needed to be done to think outside of the box to try and eliminate the backlogs, specifically in terms of PRP and TRV applications.
Listening to the Deputy Minister, they were all guilty of putting the economy and jobs first, but it was time to put women and children first. Recently they had celebrated International Women’s Rights Day, and would soon be celebrating Human Rights Day, and it was important that the approach and philosophy of the Department changed.
He said it was a pity that a report on the hardships that TRV and PRP applicants suffer, and some of the cases that they had heard of long waiting periods and delays, such as women having to return to countries because their passports had expired, had not been included in the discussion.
There was a long list of hardships that have been experienced. For instance, some couples already have two or three children born in SA -- they were South African children. For South African children, born in SA, to have their mothers needing to return to their countries to renew their passports and visas, and then having to struggle to come back, given various problems, was very difficult.
He suggested that since Al Jama-ah had an opportunity to supply a subject for debate in a plenary session, he would ask the Speaker to approve a debate on the hardships these people suffer, so that the Department’s hearts could soften towards women and children.
If the debate took place, and taking the Committee into confidence, he hoped to make a recommendation: temporary and permanent residency status should be issued to everyone in the backlog who had been on the system for a year or more, and who had passed adjudication. This would give them some instant relief. Of course, some of those people may not actually qualify for a PRP or TRV if and when they go through the other six levels, though he was glad that the DG had now been relieved of this responsibility of reviewing applications, so there were now fewer levels.
The proposal was that those on the system, where they had already passed adjudication ‘muster,’ must be given the relevant certificate subject to the possibility of it being revoked once their application eventually reached level four or five, seeing that level six was no longer present. Whilst Mr Hendricks was unsure whether the Chairperson would have the passion to pursue this, the Committee was aware of the hardships and the debate would bring the hardships to light. This would create a climate where no one would quarrel if the Chairperson or the Minister and Deputy Minister took the lead and said, "let us dramatically reduce the backlog, by issuing these people with their statuses/certificates if they have passed adjudication." Only about 10% or 15% may end up not qualifying, and those 10 to 15% could be revoked when the whole process is completed.
Mr A Roos (DA) said the comprehensive presentations had been extremely helpful in understanding the situation at the DHA.
On civic services, he said that the birth certificates and amendments backlog was huge, so it was good to see progress had been made in that regard. However, it was concerning that it always seemed to be attributed to some external factor.
There was something the Committee had spoken about back in 2019, where they had said there was a need to have birth registration at clinics and public hospitals, and the Minister had committed to doing this within this term. However, they were now coming to about a year and a half to go, and it did not seem like this Project was getting there. Mr Sigama had presented somewhat on this, but could he please give Members an idea of where the DHA would be with birth registrations at all clinics and public hospitals by the middle of 2024?
On slide 11, the implementation of track and trace is mentioned. In the Lubisi report, track and trace had been criticised because it was essentially filled in afterwards -- it was not filled in as one went along. Was this the same track and trace as in permitting? What kind of reports could the DHA draw from it? Could they, for example, see that an application had sat on an official’s desk for three months? Was it automated in a way so that if somebody had not dealt with it for, say, two weeks, it would be flagged to management? He wanted clarification on this, because track and trace was a critical troubleshooting tool that could be used to see where things were getting blocked.
To give an example of some of the frustrations that he had faced, there was a query he had sent on 9 January about marriage officers. Eventually, after many emails backwards and forwards, it was escalated to the Minister's office on 14 February. Clearly, it had been assigned to two officials, and they had just sat on it and decided that they were not going to respond -- they were not going to respond to Members of Parliament; they were just going to ignore it. He had requested a resolution on this, and wanted to know when he would receive feedback on this. He had specifically asked for an explanation as to why those two officials did not respond, because he believed this was a recurring challenge that one has in the DHA. From what he had seen, they actually had DDGs that work very hard, and there were lower-level officials that just decide whether they want to work or not.
Slide 12 referred to non-compliant applications at the back office, and he wanted to understand how this was possible. This meant that somebody would come to a Home Affairs office, queue there for the whole day -- or maybe even two to three days -- and submit documents, and when the back office received them, the required things were not there. Why was this happening and what was going to be done to fix it? His understanding was that the DHA should receive those documents, scan them in, and have a scanned copy that got submitted that could be referred back to. This record of losing documents was criminal and absolutely devastating to people that queued there and then thought their application was being assessed, but it was not because there was some document missing.
Mr Roos commented that RAASA had started fairly slowly, and had started later than expected. They had been way behind on this, but now there seemed to be at least an assurance that they were not going backwards and a new backlog was not forming.
Of the 1 196 appeals that were finalised, what was the approximate percentage of the appeals that had been successful? His concern was that this number could be higher than expected, which would indicate a problem at the RSDO level in the first instance.
Also, it had been indicated that the UNHCR allocated R146 million for this Project. How much of this had been spent to date, given that they were at the halfway point?
Looking at permitting, the additional capacity was welcomed. It was important to stress that this was a critical issue -- an apex priority of the DHA -- in the midterm strategic framework from 2019 to 2024, and they were rapidly coming to an end of this. According to the annual report, the Department had a key role to play in supporting economic transformation and job creation through the implementation of a visa regime or revised visa regime and the issuance of visas and permits. It also talked about the economic reconstruction and recovery plan, and he could give one example of the kind of revenue that was being thrown away, because this had not happened -- this issue had not been resolved.
One often talked about the 'digital nomad visa,' which President Ramaphosa had mentioned again in the State of the Nation Address (SONA). 52 countries, including neighbouring Namibia, already had these digital nomad visas. A survey conducted by MBO Partners showed that there were about 4.8 million digital nomads worldwide, and this was in 2021, so this figure had probably grown. They also found that digital nomads spend an average of R55 000 to R90 000 a month on expenses such as accommodation, transport, food and entertainment. So if South Africa had it, and assuming that each country got an equal share of this market, even if one took an absolutely conservative figure, the revenue it would stand to get from this would be around R5 billion per month. This meant that within two months, they could cover the budget of the DHA just by implementing this visa type. Also, apart from adding 90 000 skilled workers to the South African environment, these persons would live as tourists, so they would also contribute to tourism jobs. He therefore hoped that these visa promises in SONA and the report of DG Msimang were not being delayed because of backlogs, especially because the backlogs were self-inflicted.
For instance, the Deputy Minister had adjudicators who did not have legal training. The question here is, why were they hired? If they had a backlog because of the deployment of unqualified cadres, this was a massive problem, so why were they employed in the first place? Suspensions were one thing, but they turned out to be long term paid holidays with bonuses and benefits. It took a year and a half to two years for the suspension processes and all that went on there, to be adjudicated, yet these persons were getting paid their annual bonuses and continued to get their benefits. In this regard, this also led to the question of why there was no succession planning. How was it that when a senior adjudicator left the Department or was suspended, there was nobody to take over?
Another issue was COVID, which was blamed for the backlog, but there were still applications submitted in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 -- why had these applications not been finalised yet? If one sees applications from 2022 being finalised, why were the applications from years ago not being finalised?
Mr Roos said it was also important to talk about some proposals that could perhaps help the Department to deal with the causes, because they could keep endlessly throwing resources at the backlog, but there was a need to start finding ways that they could resolve what was causing the backlog and could close the tap.
The Lubisi permitting report showed that up to 2019, there was a rejection rate on the visa adjudication system of 25% to 30%. Could Home Affairs indicate what the current rejection rate on visas was? From the many complaints received, this figure certainly seemed to have more than doubled since 2019, suggesting that the same applications were being processed up to three times. They also needed to ask whether the following reasons that were given, were reasonable:
- "Could not confirm medical aid."
The challenge was that the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) prevents medical aid from giving information to third parties. So how could the reason that the medical aid could not be confirmed, even though proof was already provided, be used to reject a claim/ application?
- "No SAQA certificate submitted."
A critical skills visa could not be submitted without that certificate from the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). However, these sometimes get rejected on photo quality. The person then needed to completely reapply and pay R3 000, instead of a situation where, if the copy was not good, they simply requested the client to submit another one.
- "No registration with a statutory body."
Overseas lecturers were being rejected due to non-registration with a statutory body -- but there was no statutory body for lecturers. So why were these persons being rejected on the basis of a statutory body, which was a requirement that was impossible to fulfil?
- "Employment could not be confirmed."
There was also this issue of employment that could not be confirmed, where the employer would be called once and if human resources (HR) was not available, then the application was rejected.
- "Police clearance."
Applications would be rejected for police clearance, but by the time the application was adjudicated, it had expired. It was actually very good to see that this was being addressed.
- "No change of conditions allowed."
There were also rejections based on no change of conditions allowed. A constitutional court order stated that spouses could change their status within the country. The DHA had been given two years to make the changes, but despite directive seven of 2019 being enforced, many adjudicators did not seem to know about it. What was going to be done to resolve that? It was just crazy that applications were rejected for that reason, and the persons would obviously have to reapply.
- "No marriage certificate attached."
There was also the issue of spousal visas being rejected because no marriage certificates were attached. Again, how could this be possible? When Visa Facilitation Services (VFS) take the application, there should be a checklist, and then it would be scanned in and sent off, so why were these marriage certificates disappearing? And if/when the Department did not find the physical document for whatever reason, why did they not refer back to the electronic copy?
There were also a couple of other issues:
On 22 September, Finance Minister Godongwana, in the Vulindlela progress report, had spoken about a visa recognition programme that was going to be implemented in the next quarter (which was now), which would allow the holders of certain visas of recognised countries to enter South Africa without a new application process. Where was the DHA at with this now? This would surely take a load off the new applications. When applications were rejected, even through no fault of the applicant but that of VFS or the front office, the applicant still had to reapply and pay R1 550, which was absolutely ridiculous.
Complaints had also been received that tourists apply for renewal within the first 30 days of their tourist visa, and it took so long for it to be adjudicated that the 90 days had expired, and they had to go home. Thus, they stop spending money in South Africa, and the tourist economy suffers. Why was it not possible to amend this? Were there any indications that the Department was looking at how they could renew these tourist visas? If there was nothing that came up on a criminal record system, if they had been in the country and there had been no problems, could this be speeded up? It seemed that this must also be the cause of many delays on the Department’s side as well.
Another concern raised in the Lubisi report was the manual processes -- even the track and trace was filled in only after the fact, as earlier mentioned -- and if one looked at the missions abroad, the report also said that they could not network, so visas and permits had to be done manually. This was a cause for serious concern.
Another suggestion on the PRP applications was to grant a minimum requirement exemption, especially for spouses who had been married for over five years and had children together. This was clearly not a sham marriage -- they had been together for a considerable amount of time and had children together. In fact, this was done in 2000 after the Dawood court case. Could the Department not consider handling these kinds of applications similarly to deal with the spousal visa backlog?
Mr Roos said he thought Mr Simons had spoken about 81 officials working overtime, but from what he understood, there had been 39 officials and now they were adding 18. He asked for clarification on this, as well as on the turnaround time for the E-visa.
Would the blanket waiver, due to expire at the end of this month, be extended? Was there any indication of when this would be extended to?
Finally, he mentioned DG Msimang's report on the review of the work visa regime, and requested that the Committee receive this report.
Ms L Tito (EFF) agreed with the earlier comments, and acknowledged the importance of the presentations that had been made.
Concerning the CS, she did not see any details of the backlog on the late registrations of birth applications in the presentation. Dating back to 2018, how many applications for late registration of births had been received, and how many have been finalised? Why were births still being recorded manually -- did this not defeat the purpose of the digitisation project? What would happen with the old physical records once the digitisation project was completed?
The DHA management, including RAASA and the Standing Committee on Refugee Affairs (SCRA) used to make available performance reviews and statistical reports of refugee appeals and asylum seekers annually. Was this still being done and if so, could they be forwarded to the Committee as soon as they were done on a year-on-year basis?
Ms A Khanyile (DA) began by raising concern that, even though the Minister and the Deputy Minister had always promised that, given all the queries that the Committee received from members of the public, queries sent by the Committee to the DHA would be prioritised, yet this had not been the case. This issue of not getting feedback from immigration was one that the Committee had raised before, and was supposed to have been addressed after the last Portfolio Committee meeting. However, following this, DHA officials continued to ignore Members' emails and communications. This did not include Mr Simons, who they normally saw acknowledging receipt of emails, but he would cascade the queries to other officials who failed to respond. For instance,
She was sitting with about four queries that Mr Simons had sent to a senior official, who had acknowledged receipt and even contacted him in January, but up until this day he had not heard from him again, despite already having sent about seven emails. This was very frustrating, because it left them with a huge amount of administration. Over and above this, when members of the community follow up with Members, they constantly had to apologise to them for how the Department had treated them, but at the same time, the Department was also treating Members in the same manner. This was an issue that needed to be addressed, especially because the huge number of queries should begin to lessen at some point, even though they believed that these issues could already have been addressed.
Ms Kanyile referred to two other DHA officials on the issue of immigration, and said that when they were still in their positions, they were getting responses more quickly than was happening now. Since then, what has changed? Perhaps if they were given this information, it would be easier for them to explain it to members of the community.
The Department had indicated that most of the backlog had been caused by COVID, because some of the application processes had been stopped. However, the presentation showed the Department had a backlog from 2016 to 2020, with the biggest amount of the backlog being in 2019. SA had its first case of COVID in March 2020, and went into hard lockdown only on 21 September to 28 December. As such, surely COVID could not be blamed for the backlog from 2016 to 2019. Could the Department please tell them what had caused these backlogs? Over and above this, could it indicate how much of the 3 524 backlog from 2016 had been addressed, and what stage they were in?
The ADDG had indicated that one official processing applications could get through seven applications per day. Normally when someone sent a follow-up to immigration on these queries, they would be told that the matter was sitting at the third quality assurance level. When they sent another follow-up, say eight months later, they were often given the same feedback. If one official got through seven applications in one day, what then caused this situation, where people often got feedback that one matter was still at the same status even eight months later?
RAASA had indicated that one of the reasons why they had been unable to finalise some of the appeals at hand was the fact that they were unable to trace the appellants, so what measures had they put in place to ensure that appellants were actually traceable? For instance, did appellants have to give their current address, and were they made to report/confirm their residential address, say, monthly? They were sitting with a big problem if there were large numbers of untraceable people, especially in a country where they were always complaining about the high number of people that were not documented. Going forward, what measures were in place to ensure that appellants were going to be traceable?
On CS, she acknowledged the work and progress that had been made. However, the Committee had not been furnished with details on whether there was a backlog in the number of applications received from people erroneously declared dead by the Department. How many applications did the Department have on this issue? When were they received? And what was the likely turnaround time on such matters, and what progress had been made? Her party had worked with two or three cases thus far, where people who were trying to get their documents corrected (because they were still alive), had been waiting on the Department for about 12 years. In fact, these cases were resolved only through their intervention. Thus, could the Department furnish them with those details?
Another issue was related to the transgender community. They had received a huge number of queries from people who had followed the relevant procedure, but after they had got all the required doctors' and other reports, which they had then submitted to the DHA, they had been ignored. What was the current status of these issues and applications that had been submitted?
Mr K Pillay (ANC) agreed that it was important to acknowledge the progress that had been made thus far, but that it was also important to recognise that these backlogs were a serious challenge and point of frustration not just for the Members of the Committee, but for all applicants.
He echoed earlier concerns about backlogs prior to COVID, and asked for an indication of a specific number in terms of the backlogs prior to COVID and an explanation for why they had occurred. During COVID, a lot of work was being done virtually. Therefore a substantial number of those backlogs could have been dealt with during that period when there was no heavy traffic, so it was concerning that that had not happened.
He proposed that in light of all of these presentations, the only way in which the Committee would be able to track progress and evaluate and monitor what was going on, was if they got a report – whether it was every second month or quarterly – on the progress made on all the backlogs. It was important for the Committee to be appraised about what was happening so that if they saw no significant progress, they could step in and say, "we need to change certain things." At any time, receiving a presentation that looked good on paper was easy, but there needed to be a focus on proper implementation.
Concerning vacancies, one of the biggest challenges seen in all of the presentations was where there had been a failure to ensure that certain things were more timeously executed. Thus, what were the funded vacancies and unfunded vacancies? And in terms of filling the vacancies, DDG Mavuso had said that this was at an advanced stage, but what was the advanced stage? Had it been advertised? Had it been shortlisted? Were they going to be finalising this and if not, could they give the Committee a timeline of when and how this was going to be undertaken so one could bring in more resources to assist the process?
Also, was there a link between the DHA and the SAQA? If not, how could they ensure that there was a link with SAQA to reduce delays in getting SAQA qualifications and accreditations confirmed?
Lastly, the DHA had to do something urgently to decrease the backlog of late registrations of births. This could not remain outstanding for so long; so how could they speed up that process?
Adv B Bongo (ANC) said that the Committee would like to acknowledge the delegations for the reports that had been given, and that they were pleased that the reports showed some progress, and that work was being done to deal with the backlogs in the Department.
He recommended that they needed to deal with the issues in RAASA report with the speed they deserved, because the organisation was sitting with a lot of complaints, especially in respect of appeals. Even though the report was good, they needed to accelerate what they needed to do going forward.
Concerning CS, he acknowledged the work that had been put in by Mr Sigama, particularly as every time he had been called upon, he had been on hand to deal with the problems raised, and the report from the CS was quite a good report. Members needed to acknowledge the good work done and encourage a continuation of this so that the relevant officials got the vigour and power to do more. Whilst he accepted some of the issues raised by Mr Roos, the overall work had been very impressive. For example, as part of oversight, he visited Centurion, where he witnessed a lot of officials who were prepared to do the work and were highly encouraged and motivated.
The report on the backlog at IS indicated a lot of challenges that must be acknowledged. The backlog was too great, and was also unacceptable. Blaming the period of COVID and so on was not going to assist them going forward. What was needed was a force multiplier to deal with this backlog on the permit and visa side.
The vacancies in the Department must be attended to "with the speed of a Mirage."
He raised doubt about the turnaround plan that was spoken about, based on other officials coming from abroad and augmenting the process. When those officials came from abroad, they were often completely disorientated in terms of what was happening and required training for two weeks or so before they would know what people were complaining about.
As Ms Khanyile had noted, the Committee did not enjoy all the complaints that it got from the public and which were sent to the IS section. The Members and the public were in the same boat regarding the lack of feedback received. They had to work with the Deputy Minister to implement some measures.
He agreed with the suggestions raised by Mr Hendricks, but added that this was not a situation where one size fits all. Currently, they are sitting with complaints from people waiting for responses for five years, and others for two years. This was a big backlog, and what was needed was an approach that categorises and easily caters to each of these segments specifically. Attempting to do so would impact not only the work that must be done on current applications, but also on the number of people who were in the country illegally.
For example, if one looked at the situation in Rwanda, it was very simple to get in, and that was why it was simple to get out. However, in SA, it was very difficult to get in, and when people were in, they were hesitant to leave because they knew that coming back would be difficult. They therefore had to have some turnaround strategies to ensure it was very simple for people to get in so that they could get out, as opposed to seeing getting in as a challenge, and thus deciding to just stay in and not renew -- which leads to a growing issue of illegal/undocumented persons.
He agreed with Mr Pillay that perhaps on a quarterly basis, the Committee should be briefed about the backlog, because it affected what they had to do currently to deal with these issues. It was going to cause problems for oversight and for the Department itself regarding what it could do, because even when dealing with current issues, the backlog was following it. One had to take extraordinary measures to resolve this backlog. If it meant improving on overtime, like they said in the presentation, one must concentrate on that. If it meant improving on getting people for a specified period of time just to deal with the backlogs, then one had to do that.
If they did not deal with the backlogs, they were going to have all these other problems that were arising. Currently, there are 19 complaints on the table about PRPs and TRVs sent by members of the public. The Committee wanted to respond, but when the queries were forwarded to the Department, there was rarely a response. As Members, they were expected to assist the public, but they could not wait on the Department -- it had to assist them by ensuring that systems were properly put in place to deal with all these backlogs.
The Committee needs proper cooperation, particularly from the IS section, where they needed to either fill the vacancies or put in some measures to deal specifically with the backlog, so that the system running on the new applications was not interrupted.
Mr Sigama responded to the questions on the plans to connect the DHA to health facilities, and what they were doing. He said the CS’s plan was in place and having reviewed it, they realised that they would rather focus on high volume health facilities, which would then allow the CS to capture more births in the next few years. They had also condensed their plans to deal with priorities one, two and three. As for priorities four and five, a decision had been made to condense them so they could use a "round robin" exercise, where people would move from one health facility to the other. Since these were low volume health facilities which registered fewer than 1 000 births a year, it had been decided to get people who were mobile to move around those facilities and track registrations, as opposed to wasting resources. This plan was still on the cards, and whilst originally it was for five years, they were working to fast track it, and now that it was condensed, they were likely to finalise it earlier than planned. They would continue to update the Committee on what was happening in that environment.
He said the track and trace used in permits were not the same as the track and trace used in their back office. The CS’s track and trace dealt with the actual movement of an application form, which was then tracked from the office of source to when the courier receives the application, to the back office and then back to the office of source, and all the way until the client has received the final product. They were thus able to track each and every step, particularly in automated areas. They were still lagging and were in the process of finalising in the areas where they had not yet automated. Although the track and trace system was in place, most of the stages or processes were manual, requiring automation to fast-track this area overall.
With regard to non-compliant applications and why they still had them, this was part of the issues they had identified during the assessment stage when they picked up the level of backlogs, particularly in the amendment environment. They had decided to draw up a programme that would pick up all the errors as per the standard operating procedures (SOP), because they had to map it out in the system and track each and every flow of information. In the end, they were able to then pick up the non-compliance in some of the applications. The decision was made that once this was picked up through an error report, it would then be flagged to the office for it to rectify and bring it back. This was the mechanism employed, but going forward, once it is automated, the system will not allow incomplete applications to go through if the requirements are not met.
Regarding late birth registrations, the Committee would recall that early registration was within 30 days, and the Department had no serious issues, nor measures to deal with that. Their biggest challenge was with those above 30 days, but less than 14 years. These were adjudicated at the local office, and they did not have statistics at the moment to indicate the volumes in which such late registrations were being experienced. For those 15 years and above, they had to set up an appointment and make sure that they came to us, and this was where they were still trying to gather statistics. However, the ultimate goal was to engage in public awareness so that members of the public knew that they should avoid late registrations at all costs and make sure that they register births within 30 days, especially because that would require the DHA to go deeper and require requests for additional information up until they were satisfied, before they could conclude the processing of such applications.
The DHA would make sure that they submitted these statistics once they were squared, because this process was still manual at the moment, and they needed to collate them with the provinces to get an agreed figure.
Regarding the question raised on statistics on the transgender community, ever since the Department started recording the numbers, they had had about 476 applications, most of which had been finalised. At the moment, they had about 27 of them on hand. They still had to contact clients and ensure that all the requirements were met because, so far, the documents received really did not leave them with the ability to process those applications. Most of the letters had been sent, and they were just waiting for the clients to give them feedback with the additional information required.
The last question was about people declared dead but that were still alive, and what the numbers were. There was a small number; due to the fact that all offices had now introduced the so-called online verification, so when they register a death, they have to make sure that they capture fingerprints and verify them. Only when they get results from the online system could they then continue with the process. The same applied to the fingerprints taken on DHA 1663, which was the death registration form. They were in the process of trying to automate the forms and the process so that they could verify information before they could even issue a death certificate. Still, at the moment the numbers were quite minimal, and they hoped that with the implementation of certain modules within the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS), this would help the CS because most of the process would be automated, and that would give better results.
DG Makhode responded to the question as to whether the presented plans would address the backlogs, and said that the DHA was of the view that the plans were sufficient to address the bulk of the backlogs. For example, the CS had been sitting at around 400 000 when they started with the backlog project, and through that plan, they were now sitting at about 60 000.
The Minister and the Deputy Minister monitored the plans for both the CS and IS. Regular updates were given where they indicated the progress that they were making, and where there were constraints, they could raise some of those issues.
On the question by Mr Hendricks, the answer lay with the Members of Parliament. If there was a view that legislation should be amended, that would be in the hands of the Members. The challenge was that as things currently stand, they could not deviate from the legislative prescripts on the permits and visa that had been referred to.
They were certainly prioritising the issue of backlogs and working really hard to ensure they addressed these issues. As Adv Bongo had indicated, there was a need to accelerate, and they had taken note of this and were accelerating, including the overtime that Mr Simons had spoken about. In most instances, the chief financial officer (CFO) agreed to add additional hours to the teams working on these permits and to the DHA, bringing in additional capacity from the provinces.
The reason why significant progress had been made in the CS was because they had capacitated it. For example, 642 of the 754 positions that the Department received from Treasury went to CS; about 642 of those went to CS, and the majority had been filled. There had also been the additional capacity that DDG Mavuso had added in terms of the digitisation initiative in CS. This was why they had started to see significant reductions in the numbers in the civics space.
They had now increased the focus on IS, particularly permitting, and the additional 18 adjudicators should be able to assist them regarding the backlogs.
As to whether the Department was able to monitor progress using the track and trace system, he said they were able to monitor which officials were sitting with applications. As Mr Simons had indicated in his presentation, they had also appointed a data analyst who delivers statistics at the beginning and end of the day, so on a daily basis, they get updates in terms of each official's shared contribution to the backlog project (i.e., applications from around 2016/17), and in terms of new applications. This information from the data analyst allowed them to monitor their overall performance.
He agreed with Mr Roos that the activities in the permitting area were an apex priority. To this end, some of the recommendations raised regarding TRVs and tourist visas were already being pursued. The Department was working on various implementation plans with a team from the Presidency to ensure that they fast track the implementation of the changes, including those recommended in the reports that had been given to the President. Thus far, there were eight recommendations/reports, broadly classified into two -- those that speak to legislation and policy, and those that deal with systems. For instance, there were a number of SOPs and regulations they would soon start eliminating, such as the requirement for a radiology report, and work was continuing to implement other similar changes.
He confirmed that the Department did have a relationship with SAQA. The fact that they were able to fill so many vacancies within a short time was due to the weekly meetings that the ADDG, HR and SAQA had been having following a formal request that the Department had made to them. The hope was that this would be able to assist in the finalisation of some of the visas and permits.
The issue around capacity in permitting was something that they were continuing to work on. This was an area that was not optimally capacitated. When they last presented to the Committee, they were sitting at around 39%. The capacitation programme had enabled them to move to just 42%, so they agree that there is still a lot that they needed to do.
The Department also had a relationship with Universities South Africa (USAf) to look at the applications for lecturers. They had had one meeting last week looking at outstanding student visas, and the focus this week would be on the issue of lecturers.
The DHA provides regular reports to USAf, the structure comprising all the universities in South Africa. This formal relationship was important because, instead of the Department attending to individual queries and applications from a number of universities, it was better if it came from one entity, as in this case.
They had also introduced operations management to assist them in tracking performance and ensure that the issues around permitting were addressed daily.
The Department had noted all the comments around vacancies which were being attended to, including the shortlisting process for both the DDG and Chief Director that was currently underway.
Mr Simons referred to the issue of thinking outside the box raised by the Members, and said the Department had been working hard on this. For instance, this was why staff had been brought in from the provincial offices to deal with the backlog and bottleneck created at quality assurance levels three and four, and to assist where necessary, because they did not have those positions in head office. Delegation was a key part of what they had to change to simplify and reduce the different levels and speed up the processing of applications.
One of the areas that we were seriously working on was that the Visa Application System (VAS) adjudication could be done only inside the office on the data line of Home Affairs. It could not be done remotely, so officials needed to come into the office to attend to applications. They were currently working on this with the IT unit, and were piloting a new approach using three laptops provided to them.
He said that during COVID-19, this system had affected them since staff were working from home. In the lead-up to this, the whole adjudication unit was set up on the 21st floor in the Hallmark building in much smaller offices, so there was no social distancing. Because of social distancing regulations, at one stage, they had had to work with 50% staff, and then 30% staff, which slowed down progress. Additionally, when COVID started in March 2020, in the first month, they had nobody working in the offices, so the applications from mid-2019 were not and could not be attended to during the COVID period because they had such few staff because of social distancing, and also staff not being available.
COVID-19 also exacerbated the backlog in TRVs because from 22 September 2020, in the midst of COVID, they had reopened for TRV applications that started to come in, yet they were still operating with social distancing regulations, so they could not finalise these applications.
On the point raised by the Members on 2016 applications and the cause of the backlog, as Mr Roos and Mr Hendricks had indicated, the apex priority of the DHA had always been to look at applications for economic transformation and job creation, so their capacities were always focused on these targets which included critical skills visas, business visas and general work visas for job creation. Thus, regarding capacity, they had neglected to put enough resources into the other non-target areas like relatives' visas, spousal visas, and PR applications. This was the cause for the backlogs from 2016.
In terms of a breakdown of how far and at which levels these backlogs from 2016 had reached, none of the backlogs up until 2022 were sitting with adjudicators -- they had all been adjudicated. The backlogs had moved either to the assistant director, director or chief director level, and this was where they had less staff. This was an area that they were working on possible proposals on how they could deal with these, because most (90%, if not more) were in the spousal and relative categories, where adjudications had already been finalised, but it was at the quality assurance level. One of the issues they had to consider, and this related to the comments of Mr Hendricks, was the Lubisi report and the findings on verification -- for example, the finalising of applications without doing due diligence, the verification of fraudulent documents, and possible court litigation arising from the issuing of visas/ permits and then withdrawing them afterwards. Still, this was a proposal that the immigration branch would look into as they continue to work on ways to deal with this backlog.
All of the attention now was on dealing with 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 applications, and they were working on finalising these, but they had to balance between finalising these files and still meeting the targets on current/ new applications.
On the digital nomad visa/remote working visa, the Department had had a number of meetings on this, and as indicated in the presentation, they had draft regulations on this. Additionally, in the meetings with the Presidency, they indicated that they did not necessarily have to create a new visa category for this. The Department, including the Minister, fully support the idea. They were working with the Presidency to require amendment of the regulations instead of the legislation, which would take much longer. They were meeting with the Presidency again on 16 March on progress with the implementation of the recommendations from the Vulindelela report, which would assist in the fast-tracking and processing of applications.
On the question about unqualified cadres, this was an issue of the past, where they used to appoint ‘generalists’ as adjudicators. That would no longer be the position, as it was now legally qualified persons who were appointed.
Currently, the DHA's rejection rate across the different categories averaged about 45%, which was higher than what it was in the Lubisi report. Certain categories were higher and others, such as spousal visa rejection rates, were much lower than 45%.
Regarding extending visitors' visas, the requirement was that one must apply for an extension 60 days prior to expiry, but with visitors' visas, it was only seven days before expiry. The process was still manual at the missions, but this was a project/issue they were working on.
On the number of officials that worked overtime, 39 were adjudicators that worked overtime. The 81 included the 39 adjudicators, plus assistant directors, deputy directors and other levels that also work overtime.
The turnaround for E-visas was between five and 14 days. There have been a lot of enhancements to the E-visa system of Home Affairs. The process was much quicker now, and this was why they were confident in saying five to 14 days.
On the delay in response to queries, they noted the issues raised. One area that they really needed to improve on was their responses to Members of the Committee and Parliamentarians, but they had to balance this against the high number of litigation queries they received from the Public Protector. Still, this was an area that they would improve on.
The DHA had an online link to SAQA, so it was not an issue to confirm SAQA verifications because they had that link already.
They also supported the comments from Mr Pillay that quarterly (or whatever the Chairperson decides) progress reports on the backlog could and should be provided to the Committee.
They had also noted the comments from Mr Bongo. As was indicated, the backlog also creates security issues and more litigation, which is costly. They were thus aware that their focus must be on the backlog, and these plans, including additional resources, aimed to deal decisively with the backlog issue.
The officials that were coming aboard were officials that were in SA and were currently doing theory training, and the practical training ended at the end of March. They would just move from one centre to the other and to the adjudication hub, and immediately start operating. As such, there was no issue involving training because training was currently being undertaken.
Adv Raphesu referred to the successes and the failed appeals at the RSDO level, and said that, as indicated before, the backlog was riddled with what they called economic migrants. Most of the decisions/rejections that came through from the RSDO level tended to be confirmed by RAASA instead of coming to a different conclusion. In some cases, they would find that the procedure was flawed at the RSDO level, and they would attend to these to rehear the asylum seeker. There were some cases where they would ultimately go against the decision of the RSDO, but this was in very few appeals.
Regarding how much of the allocated funding they had already spent, it was important to note that the entire amount of the backlog project funding did not emanate from the UNHCR -- there was a joint agreement with the Department. The UNHCR’s contribution to the backlog project was R89 million. The R89 million was mainly budgeted for the salaries of the 36 members that they had agreed upon. So far, from the R89 million, they had utilised R27 million, which was already spent on salaries. The next allocation for 2023 was R18 million, which was still pending, but they would be paying it through in a short while. So in total, the amount they were going to pay was R45 million, from the budget for salaries. The rest of the funding was from the DHA, which included the salaries of the administrative staff for the Project and any equipment (e.g., cell phones) for the 36 members of the team.
Regarding the annual statistical performance reports, RAASA did provide this report through the office of the Minister. She thought that through the office of the Minister, it could be arranged that they share the same annual statistics and performance reports with the Committee. They also worked with a weekly dashboard of statistics and progress reports, so they would, through the office of the Minister, look at how they could also extend the submission of the reports to this Committee even on a quarterly or bi-monthly basis, as requested by Mr Pillay.
Concerning their inability to track appellants once they were integrated into the system, as long as they did not deal with asylum seekers in a controlled space, they could not know where they were at a particular time. What they had been doing was taking their contact details when they entered the Republic. They had been imploring them to update us with their current contact details and location from time to time in case they moved, so that it was also upon them. However, where they failed to do so, the mechanism they had spoken about today, where they blocked them on the system, would enable them to track them better. This was because, in any particular stay in the Republic, appellants ought to adhere to the rules and regulations of SA. This was why they often extended their section 22 permits, since failure to do so immediately rendered them an illegal foreigner. This was where they would get them. If they did not know where they were at any particular time, when they went to extend their permits, the DHA would ensure they got their locations and contact details before anything else proceeded, thus allowing them to cap this issue going forward.
Deputy Minister’s remarks
Deputy Minister Nzuza said that the Department appreciated the inputs from the Members, noting that this gave them the ability to enhance and advance their work. Any issues that had not been dealt with properly because of time constraints would be processed and thoroughly dealt with during the planned strategic session.
The DHA’s approach had been that charity began at home, and therefore they had had to prioritise the citizens of SA and ensure they did not suffer. For this reason, when there was an opportunity to add resources in the Department in terms of staffing and goods and services, the focus had initially been on CS. The Department was pleased that, as noted today, there had been significant improvements in CS, given the various investments made. Whilst there was more that still needed to be done, it was great that the improvements had been noted and acknowledged.
The focus was now mainly on IS, which had been a cause of concern for some time. Initially, it was an area that was riddled with quite a number of irregularities that had to be fixed. When the DHA embarked on this process, it had immediately been met with resistance which was previously reported to the Committee. Having dealt with the resistance, it was now looking to improve its performance.
It was important to accept that SA was a receiving country, which meant that the approach would not be similar to other countries, because it attracted quite a number of people who were interested in coming to SA. Some of them often did not qualify for what they applied for. As a result, there had to be a balance between the security of the country and its economic growth. They also had to manage the issue of quality, internal control and the speed at which they adjudicate applications, hence the move towards putting in place all these systems. The DHA would also implement the Mavuso report, as it had very good recommendations that they needed to start implementing so that they could resolve some of the issues.
The Department’s role was to make sure that when problems arose, they were able to resolve them. For instance, the issue of legally trained personnel had been a problem in the past, but it was not going to be a problem going forward because they had identified that this was a problem and had now sourced legally trained people. They had a number of personnel who had come into the DHA, and they would be starting work very soon. This meant that this issue was now water under the bridge, and the quality of how they adjudicated would improve.
They noted that they needed to improve the query management system, especially given all the Members that had raised this as an issue. They would take this back to the DHA and develop a way to ensure that queries coming from Members and the general public were dealt with professionally and properly going forward.
The DHA was also in the process of putting up and improving systems on permitting. For instance, removing the requirements such as radiology/X rays, and reducing the number of times they needed SAPS records, was already a good step in the right direction, since it meant they would be able to process applications much faster. As had been said, they would continue to focus on improving IS.
On the issue of birth registrations, over the years, they have seen tremendous progress and have significantly managed to reduce late birth registrations and increase early birth registrations. The focus had been on priority 1, 2, 3 and 4 hospitals, which account for about 91% of births. The DHA had grown its presence from 120 to 260 facilities. When COVID hit the country, this had been a stumbling block, since the revenue they were collecting had been drastically reduced. This was an issue, because the Project of establishing facilities in hospitals was mainly driven by self-financing activities. As it stood, over the term they were looking at, they had picked up close to about R800 million from self-financing work activities, which they would be investing into growing their presence in hospitals, allowing them to deal with issues such as those raised by Mr Roos.
Chairperson’s closing remarks
The Chairperson thanked the delegations for the detailed presentations on the various issues, and the Members for their detailed and insightful contributions.
There was an agreed appreciation for the work being done, especially in the CS, but one must note the concerns that Members had raised, particularly on the issues in IS.
The Deputy Minister would be taking some of the issues to the strategy meeting as the Members had agreed so that they would be able to zoom in on the issues raised.
The Deputy Minister would recall that the Ministry had dedicated an official to deal with the queries or complaints that arose from Members of Parliament having received them from their communities. There were serious concerns around this, and the Committee requested a detailed report on this and who the Department had dedicated for Members to forward the queries to. This was important so that at least, if there were plans to deal with the queries, Members were empowered and able to respond to the community.
The Committee would also look at the issues residing in the Lubisi report. Receiving a progress report on this was quite important, but they were happy that some of the issues that were recommended were already being implemented, as highlighted in the report that Mr Simons had presented.
The progress that RAASA had made in addressing the backlogs since our previous Portfolio Committee meeting should have been acknowledged, and he commended the continued work. However, more attention needed to be paid to the issues and recommendations that Members had raised.
The Committee was going to interface on the overall review of the immigration laws. This would also assist them in responding to a number of IS issues and overcoming some of the obstacles that the country and Members were facing, particularly given the Department’s struggles with resolving some issues timeously. This overall review of the immigration laws would give them the opportunity to reset their focus in terms of the issues that they had identified.
The Committee had taken note of the Msimang Report and the recommendations highlighted by the Deputy Minister. Once that report found its way to the Committee, they would properly familiarise themselves with these recommendations, but they were pleased that the DM and the Department were ahead in terms of dealing with the issues and recommendations that this report had outlined.
It had also been noted that this was the last Committee meeting for the quarter, but the Members would be able to interface with the Ministers and the Department on preparations as they proceeded to the strategic plan.
The meeting was adjourned.
- ATC Announcement
- Media Statement: Commendable Progress In Eradicating Backlogs In Home Affairs But Concerns Remain With Permitting And Visa Environment
- RAASA: Appeals Backlog Presentation
- DHA: Permit & Visa Backlog Eradication Presentation
- Letter on Naturalisation
- DHA: Back Office Backlog Presentation
Chabane, Mr MS
Bongo, Adv BT
Hendricks, Mr MGE
Khanyile, Ms AT
Legwase, Ms TI
Modise, Ms M
Molekwa, Ms MA
Nzuza, Mr NB
Pillay, Mr KB
Roos, Mr AC
Tito, Ms LF
van der Merwe, Ms LL
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