Excessive red tape preventing expats from returning to SA

Foreign nationals working and studying in South Africa are battling to jump through all the hoops required for them to get back into the country, while the country's closed embassies abroad also aren't helping matters.

Despite expatriates working and studying in South Africa being allowed to return to the country during the lockdown, many have been hesitant due to the strict requirements they need to meet before being granted permission by government to return.

According to immigration specialist at Xpatweb, Leetasha Govender, for expats to be considered to return to SA, they have to fall within the “exceptional need to return” category which applies to long-term visa holders who need to return for work purposes that are in line with the economic growth of the country.

“Expats are ready to return home but the hoops they need to jump through are too cumbersome for some to book the flight,” she said.

“If a long-term visa holder wants to return to South Africa, they will be considered depending on their positions and the reputation of their employer. The likelihood of a South African employee within the country being able to temporarily fill the role until border-lockdown has been lifted is also one of the department of home affairs’ consideration,” said Govender.

In May, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma issued regulations which allowed permanent residents to return into the country. But on 3 July 2020, Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi issued directives for people who fall outside of the categories allowed to return to the country.

In terms of Motsoaledi’s directives, expats who wished to return had to apply in writing to the minister, demonstrating “exceptional circumstances” for their request to return to the country during a national state of disaster.

“People applying in this category need to ensure that their applications are supported by a copy of passport and a copy of a temporary residence visa, excluding a visa referred to in paragraphs 5 and 6 of the directions. Everyone entering the country is required to adhere to the health protocols, including quarantining for ten days,” said home affairs spokesperson Siya Qoza.

But some expats have expired or expiring visas which they are unable to renew as South African embassies abroad have not yet resumed their full immigration activities, Govender explained.

“Furthermore, people who intended to travel to South Africa cannot yet apply for new visas.”

Other challenges include the timeframe it takes to get an outcome on their request to travel into South Africa and time and money spent on flights to the country which are constantly being cancelled.

“[Also] the fear of job loss the longer an expat is stuck abroad. As most companies are starting to resume their operations, companies require their staff complement to commence working again.”

– rorisangk@citizen.co.za