National Immigration Branch Launch: Home Affairs Department briefing

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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


21 June 2005

Acting Chairperson: Mr B Tolo (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department briefing on the National Immigration Branch
Department briefing on Internal Security Building (to be presented at later meeting)

The Department of Home Affairs informed the Committee that the 2004 National Intelligence Estimate had established that borders and ports of entry were the most important security challenges to South Africa. The Department’s newly launched National Immigration Branch (NIB) claimed to offer solutions. The Committee expressed concerns about how security personnel were selected and screened. They questioned how the NIB approach differed from the past and how it interacted with other departments. They also showed concern about the consequences of implied free movement. Members wondered how the Department addressed animosity towards foreigners who possessed skills that might help the country.

As time ran out, the scheduled Department presentation on Internal Building Security was postponed.

The Chairperson relayed concerns that the Committee had not been invited to the launch of the National Immigration Branch. Department officials apologised but assured that the Committee would get more from this presentation than those who attended the launch.

Department National Immigration Branch briefing
Mr A Fraser, Deputy Director-General (DD-G), presented an introductory overview of the structure and strategic objectives of the Border Control and Co-ordination Committee (BCOCC).

The National Immigration Branch aimed to establish and maintain a world-class immigration authority that would make a significant contribution to migration management at international level. The BCOCC was responsible for the strategic management of the South African border environment in a co-ordinated manner.

Some staff priorities were to ensure that tourists and business people had valid travel documents, that legitimate guests were made welcome, the identification of legal migrants at Ports of Entry (POE), and that staff present at all ports of entry wore their uniform with pride.

Responsibilities of he National Immigration Branch Inspectorate included:
- the inspection of business premises and residences to check for compliance with valid documentation;
- to visit non-designated ports of entry such as aviation and maritime entries. Some aircraft crossed borders without permission, as did pleasure yachts;
- the many investigations into syndicated fraud and corrupt officials;
- the promotion of new legislation so that human traffickers could be prosecuted;
- interaction with counter-corruption and law enforcement agencies;
- the deportation of irregular migrants; and
- the management of Lindela Holding Facilities.

Mr Fraser detailed the immigration directives on refugee affairs and the National Immigration Branch’s plans to counter xenophobia; the co-ordination of information flows between NIB sectors and stakeholders; responsibility for developing a Document Investigation Centre to detect forgery; analyses of immigration trends and forecasts; administration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems; alignment of registration for effective border control, the development of staff capacity and transformation, and effective law enforcement.

Effective border control incorporated the management and control of ports of entry. This meant having officers present at all designated ports of entry and a more effective ICT system, and having airline liaison officers deployed at points of risk at ports of origin, rather than on arrival at port of entry. Effective co-ordination and co-operation with the relevant stakeholders meant ensuring that any passenger going abroad would first have to be cleared by the National Immigration Branch Inspectorate.

Mr Fraser went through the development, training requirements and procedures, and the strategic issue of effective law enforcement to support prosecution. Workshops would be held with the Department of Justice Training College to ensure that colleagues were better equipped. They would also examine joint operations on transnational/organised crime syndicates and human trafficking legislation.

Management of refugee services included the development of a professional refugee regime and the launching of the Smart Card to be issued in batches; an investigation into the concept of transit facilities for asylum seekers, and the challenge of successful integration of refugees into society.

Mr Fraser then gave an overview of the Incident Reporting system, identifying office trends per cluster in terms of documents, health and movement of people, and furnished examples of a completed forms for reporting incidents at ports of entry. The Branch was looking at developing a database of the ‘South African diaspora’.

The 2004 National Intelligence Estimate had established that a major paradigm shift was urgently required. The Department had to balance the issues of security, trade and development, and to secure a transversal training border environment.

Mr M Thetjeng (DA, Limpopo Province) requested an explanation on the link between the Department of Home Affairs and Labour in terms of the Inspectorate, how applicants for employment were cleared for security; the minimum legal requirements were for an inspector; how the South African diaspora would be analysed, and how the criteria used would be identified.

Mr J Thagale (UCDP, North West) congratulated the Department on this initiative. Foreigners seemed unwelcome in South Africa instead of being regarded as people with scarce skills to contribute. He asked what the Department’s views on investment and employment creation opportunities.

Ms J Masilo (ANC, North West) asked about co-ordination with the Department of Labour; whether hawkers were also inspected; how the issues of corruption were dealt with in screening prospective employees; why the staff complement needed to be increased; and who thought learnerships were an ‘underestimated task’? She also asked the purpose of carrying passports when officials still had to stand in queues, and the reason for a foreign language on the SA passport.

Ms T Cele, Department Deputy Director-General, responded that the NIB was part of a bigger immigration organisation and strategy. On the tension between the foreigners and South Africans, she stated that a NIB Unit of Counter Xenophobia dealttwith this issue. This needed to go hand in hand with public education.

Ms Cele distinguished between ‘official’ and ‘normal passports’ saying official ones were only issued to a limited group of government staff. The main benefit was that holders did not need as many visas. Control for their use lay with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. French was the other language used in South African passports as it was one of the major international languages.

With regards to Department learnerships, there were now unit standards for Immigration Learnerships with SA Qualifications Authority (SAQA). It was a long process but the Department wanted to ensure that holders ended up with qualifications that were likely to ensure employment.

The NIB followed normal public servant regulations procedures in screening employees, but also in requested security clearances. Staff training included customer service and virtues such as diligence and honesty. It hoped to ‘populate the organogram’ within the current year.

The Department had linked with the Department of Labour for providing visas and permits. The Department of Science and Technology was developing a database for the emigration diaspora. Promotion of the ‘homebound revolution’ started with forms South African citizens needed to fill out when they departed to determine migration destinations.

Mr Fraser explained that business people were exploiting foreigners. When sending inspectors to businesses, NIB endeavoured to raise awareness that businesses needed to have commercial permits for foreign workers. This process would be managed in conjunction with the SA Revenue Service (SARS). The SA Police Service (SAPS) had particularly been looking out for foreigners since 1994. This role needed to shift to immigration and further reflected the need for NIB to ‘purify’ its responsibilities.

Mr Tolo commented that the NIB’s proposed uniform with its ranks and stripes, still had military connotations of the past. He asked how searching businesses differed from the authoritarian approach of the past. He also questioned the Department on how it controlled the recurring cases of deportation, such as dealing with people who presented themselves for this purpose to hitch a free ride home and then return soon afterwards. Lastly, he asked if the Immigration Regulations discussed in 2001 had come through. He queried the big delay in ports of entry co-ordination.

Ms F Mazibuko (ANC, Gauteng) requested detail on Department preparations for the expected increased inflow from a proposed visa-free Southern African Development Community (SADC). Were immigrant shopowners in townships there legally?

Mr Setona (ANC, Free State) commented that the country should only recognise immigrants with certain skills. He queried the state of development of the curriculum material for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) course.

Mr M Sulliman (ANC, Northern Cape) was concerned about the NIB only being at ports of entry as migrants could jump fences. He also asked about the benefits to which refugees in South Africa were entitled.

Ms H Lamoela (DA, Western Cape) asked if immigrants had ‘age restrictions’. She was also interested to know the minimum requirements for Immigration Officers.

Mr Tolo asked more about the Airline Liaison Officers (ALO). Under what circumstances were people allowed to enter or exit at a place that was not a port of entry?

Ms Cele responded that no country currently had Airline Liaison Officers, but the Department was planning for the future. Refugees were entitled to certain grants. Dealing with tensions between foreigners and South Africans needed further public assistance.

NIB inspections to businesses and houses were usually accompanied by police with search warrants. Officials were not permitted to conduct searches in another way. The public could relay complaints to toll free number operators if there were problems.

Mr Fraser added that the concept of SADC Free Movement could be misleading. Even though there might not be visas, travel would still be still regulated. The Department anticipated working with other departments such as Health, in regulating the movement of people. They were working on mind and attitudinal changes, and empowerment within the department.

On the minimum requirements for employment, one needed a matriculation certificate at least, and a certain level of legal expertise. Border responsibilities that currently lay with the SAPS needed to shift to the NIB. There were certain criteria spelled out in immigration regulations including age in different types of migration. In terms of legislation, travellers had to enter the country through a designated port of entry, unless permission had been given by the Minister for special circumstances.

As time was running out, the Chairperson recommended that the second presentation on Internal Building Security be postponed.

The meeting was adjourned.


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