Immigration hurdles block Ramaphosa’s vision to lure capital

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Virtually all interested parties in the immigration industry are urging him to engage with our sector urgently to discover the hurdles blocking his ambition to make SA attractive for foreign investment.

While existing legislation may provide a platform for reasonable immigration laws, the law is not applied in practice. SA loses substantial amounts of money annually due to lawsuits challenging incorrect Department of Home Affairs visa application rejections. Even worse, the country loses incalculable benefits due to the large number of would-be investors who are turned away over visa hurdles.

Experienced business people, attracted by the promise of operating in SA, regularly lose heart and take their investments elsewhere due to failed business visa applications; they take with them their foreign investment, skills and job creation potential.

Applicants who could transfer scarce and valuable skills to SA’s citizens routinely fail to secure the promised scarce-skills visas due to wrongful refusals. Foreign-born business owners applying for visa renewals are frequently turned down for no clear reason, placing the future of their families, businesses and employees in jeopardy. Appeals against these rulings can take years, at huge financial and emotional cost to the applicants and their families, and at a significant cost to the state.

Inconsistent interpretation of the Immigration Act implemented in May 2014, with home affairs directives imposed without due consideration of their impact, are the biggest stumbling blocks in the way of the foreign direct investment and global skills transfer the country so desperately needs.

SA is no longer the only “gateway to Africa”, and foreign businesses seeking to gain a foothold on the continent have multiple investment options.

I have experienced many instances where would-be investors have opted not to appeal and have simply taken their money elsewhere. In one recent case a foreign businessman planning to invest R20m in a guesthouse in Cape Town was denied because the Department of Trade and Industry would not support his application, a prerequisite to a business visa application, deeming the sector “overpopulated”.

Potential investors are turned away annually in their numbers, and the true extent of this lost revenue will never be known because so many more hear of the challenges of entering SA to do business and move on to greener pastures without even applying.

For those who are truly determined to make SA their home the immigration challenges may serve as an incentive to enter the country illegally or to apply for the incorrect visas. And for those who are already living and working in the country, these challenges and wrongful rejections cause untold heartache and disruption.

VFS, the only office authorised to process applications, closed its Cape Town office this week until further notice with no warning, with devastating impact on those whose application deadlines loomed.

 Services for South African citizens in the supply of identity and passport documents have improved significantly over the past few years, but the service from the Department of Home Affairs for foreigners remains impaired. Litigation has consequently resulted in judgments against the department, which must realise that the Constitution has meaning and that the rule of law will prevail if the ordinary administrative process fails.

Immigration processes and the inconsistent interpretation of the law by home affairs officials are in effect slamming the door in the face of would-be foreign investors.

The immigration industry has taken due notice of Ramaphosa’s contributions to the country and his commitment to fighting corruption and putting SA back on the market as one of the top destinations for foreign investment, tertiary study and the entry of skilled workers. Only through productive and dignified engagement will litigation be avoided. Only through proper partnerships with all interested parties and the upskilling of home affairs officials, especially regarding the law, will foreigners and South Africans be better served — without fear, favour or conflict.

We urge Ramaphosa, as the new president of the ANC, to engage with interested parties to discover the real barriers in the way of much-needed foreign investment and skills streaming into the country to catalyse economic growth and job creation.