The unexpected release of new Home Affairs immigration regulations on Thursday (29 November) has come as a surprise to many, says immigration expert, Stefanie de Saude Darbandi of De Saude Attorneys.
De Saude Darbandi said that the new draft should be seen as good news as it relaxes the visa regulations around travelling with children – however, she noted that some other big changes may be on the way.
Previously, tourists travelling into the country with foreign minors were required to produce an unabridged birth certificate before being allowed access into South Africa.
This birth certificate requirement has been a major point of controversy, with a 2016 report released by the DA finding that the rule cost the country as much as R7.5 billion due to lost business from blocked tourists.
“While the minister (of Home Affairs) undertook to issue this advisory by October, it is commendable that this amendment appears to have been passed ahead of the summer holiday season,” said de Saude Darbandi.
“However, stakeholders are still waiting with baited breath for the other significant changes the minister spoke of in September, and we are curious as to why these haven’t been implemented yet – particularly in light of the fact that we are approaching the biggest and busiest holiday season.”
Among other changes, de Saude Darbandi said that South Africa was negotiating visa waiver agreements for ordinary passport holders with a number of countries, as well as simplifying visa requirements for countries such as China and India.
These countries include:
- Sao Tome & Principe;
- Saharawi-Arab Democratic Republic;
- Saudi Arabia;
- United Arab Emirates;
- State of Palestine;
De Saude Darbandi said that major new immigration regulations are also around the corner.
“A new draft Immigration Act is expected to be available for comment in March 2019, and a new critical skills list is intended to be implemented in April 2019,” she said.
“With major changes possible in the new legislation, the time spent drafting the latest minor amendments could have been better spent finalising visa/permit applications which are long outstanding, so that the affected applicants could finally go home and visit their families,” she said.
New Immigration Act
De Saude Darbandi has previously raised concerns about this new Immigration Act, with the new critical skills list significantly shorter than previous lists – omitting numerous key skills.
Among others, the designation ‘corporate general manager’ appears to have been dropped from the list, and no provision is made for equivalent skills, she said.
“This implies that high-level CEOs, business managers and consultants will no longer be able to apply for scarce skills visas, which raises questions about whether foreign business investors and multinationals will be able to support their local investments with the right level of staff.
“The draft list now allows for foreign language skills only if they are to be used in call centres. This excludes the high-level foreign language skills needed by organisations engaged in pan-African and international trade, consulting and support.
“For enterprises desperately short of next-generation technology skills to drive innovation, it should come as some concern to find that Artificial Intelligence and machine learning experts, IoT and data science skills are not included on the new critical skills list.”
Also of concern in the new regulations are changes which could mean that many long-term foreign residents are no longer eligible to remain in South Africa.
“The white paper proposes that the granting of citizenship to foreigners be considered as exceptional and require an executive decision of the minister, and calls for a points-based system for permanent residence and citizenship,” she said.
It will also effectively scrap the current system of being able to apply for naturalisation after spending a number of years in the country – replacing it with a long-term residence visa, which should be renewed at intervals.
She noted that the white paper is vague about who will qualify for permanent residence and citizenship, and that if economic contribution is used as a metric, it could leave children, pensioners and working-class citizens out in the cold.
“The white paper does not appear to recognise how much of a deterrent it is to skilled foreigners to know that, no matter how long they have lived in South Africa, and no matter how much they have contributed, they cannot become permanent residents or citizens,” she said.