Virginia, US
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| Sandra Pusch

Navigating Sudden Immigration Policy Changes in South Africa

South Africa, like many countries, has a very structured approach to law making. Who is involved at what stage and when and how the public is given an opportunity to comment, are cornerstones of the process. Furthermore, the final law is published in the Government Gazatte and made available to the public via this Gazatte.

However, changes to policy—which applies to many rules governing immigration in South Africa—are not as well communicated or publicized. This can create much confusion for many businesses in South Africa that have a vested interest in complying with immigration laws and procedures.

What Triggers Changes to Immigration Rules?

Policy changes are often triggered by events out of the sight of the “standard” applicant, and the authorities are quick to implement counter measures. The reasons vary, but often involve illegal practices, fraud, bribery, etc. Authorities don’t intend to be disruptive, but act according to their mandate which includes, but isn’t limited to, ensuring that security considerations are satisfied, legal immigration is controlled and illegal immigration is prevented.

One needs to consider that South Africa is a destination for many foreign nationals from the African continent seeking employment and a more stable economic basis for their future, and immigration policy and procedure decisions are often focussed more on economic migrants than on the comparatively small expatriate population.

Policy changes affect not only foreigners in South Africa but also those required to submit applications to the many diplomatic posts abroad. Whilst the law will have a list of prescribed documents, South African authorities abroad can request additional information that is not required by law. Often this causes confusion and frustration but is meant as a counter measure to illegal activities.

To illustrate the issue let’s look at the government’s recently publicized intention to implement measures restricting the ability to transfer visas into a new passport. This seems to have been based on the fear that there is a booming illegal practice of transferring a visa to a new passport and then selling the old passport to an individual without lawful immigration status, or with an expired immigration status, enabling him or her to stay in the country under false identity and pretences. Another example is when visa applicants are requested to obtain a certified copy of a company’s authorised signatory ID to limit the instances where fake company letterheads were produced in order to obtain a work visa.

How are Immigration Changes Communicated?

More often than not, there will be casualties in the wake of such policy changes. The changes are rarely communicated to the public in advance and are implemented without sufficient notice and grandfathering provisions. Requests for additional documents or information are often implemented overnight and are only detected when one submits an application. This often leaves sizeable numbers of the expatriate population either in the dark or even in a predicament with questionable immigration status.

What to do When a Policy Change Affects You?

Whenever a policy change occurs, it’s important to keep a cool head, seek competent advice and strategize a way forward to ensure (continued) immigration compliance. Some policy changes can be challenged whilst others are there to stay and have to be addressed by giving more information or documentation then required by law. There is typically little or no point trying to contest a new requirement or process on the spot and government interaction may be needed. Unfortunately, new policies and procedures inevitably result in additional time, effort and often additional investment and will lead to a delay that you should be prepared to account for from the outset.

If you need any assistance or guidance, you can reach out to one of our many Fragomen offices globally. For Sub-Saharan Africa reach us via africainfo@fragomen.com.