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By Ciaran Ryan

Moneyweb: Journalist & Host of Moneyweb Crypto Podcast

Outraged ZEP holders fight for permanent residency despite permit extension

ZEP holders say the law allows them to apply for permanent residence after five years in the country.

Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi announced a two-year extension to Zimbabwean and Lesotho exemption permit holders on Friday, allowing them to work, study, and live in SA until 29 November 2025.

A condition of the permit extension for affected Zimbabwean and Lesotho nationals is that they cannot thereafter apply for permanent residency.

This has outraged Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) holders, who say the law allows them to apply for permanent residence after five years in the country.

ALSO READ: Motsoaledi grants 178 000 Zimbabweans, 54 653 Basotho two-year exemption permits

A court case is already underway in the Pretoria High Court seeking to force the Department of Home Affairs to allow ZEP holders, most of whom have been in SA for more than a decade, to apply for permanent residence.

A statement by the ZEP Holders Association (Zepha) says the Home Affairs announcement that the ZEP system has been extended yet again is further proof that the decision to end the permit system in the manner that it was ended “was not just unlawful, but self-evidently unenforceable”.

No changing status either

Another condition of the extension announced on Friday by Motsoaledi is that permit holders cannot change their immigrant status in SA while the permit is valid.

Anyone applying for a permit extension must disclose and register all minor children born and staying in SA. The new permit extension is not renewable. Permit holders will be allowed freedom of movement into and out of SA.

ALSO READ: Motsoaledi ‘still studying judgment’ after ZEP appeal court loss

The two-year permit extension applies to roughly 178 000 ZEP holders and 54 653 Lesotho nationals.

“I call upon all the affected Lesotho and Zimbabwean nationals to make use of the window of opportunity to apply for new exemption permits through VFS Global [which processes permit applications on behalf of Home Affairs],” said Motsoaledi in a statement. “A dedicated team will be set up to deal with the applications for new exemption permits.”

ZEP court setbacks

Advocate Simba Chitando, who is representing Zepha, says the minister has suffered numerous court setbacks “at the expense of vulnerable Zimbabwean nationals who have contributed to the South African economy, and form a significant part of the South African community”.

ALSO READ: ‘No legitimate purpose to continue ZEP’, Home Affairs argues in court

“My instructions are to proceed with the motion to have ZEP holders leave to apply for permanent residence.”

In court papers before the high court, Zepha says the permits were issued in terms of Section 31 of the Immigration Act, which allows the minister of Home Affairs to grant foreigners the rights of permanent residence for a “specified or unspecified period when special circumstances exist” which justify the decision.

They further argue that the ZEP is, in effect, a permanent residence permit valid for a specific period of time as allowed by the Immigration Act and that they are therefore entitled to ID documents.

“It is further submitted that the holders of Zimbabwean Exemption Permits have a legitimate expectation for the renewal of their current permit, and for permanent residence, without any further conditions, and the right to apply for citizenship in the Republic of South Africa,” says an affidavit before the court.

ALSO READ: ‘Motsoaledi has made up his mind’: ZEP non-renewal will affect many lives, court hears

Chitando says supplementary papers will be filed this week with the court to further buttress the Zepha case arguing for permanent residence.

ZEP system

Home Affairs has suffered a string of court defeats in recent years, including one at the hands of the Helen Suzman Foundation earlier this year, with the court declaring the government’s decision to terminate the ZEP system as unlawful and unconstitutional. Motsoaledi acknowledges this loss and says the matter is being appealed.

Just last month, the Durban High Court ruled that Zimbabweans with valid permits may not be fired from work. This was in response to companies terminating the employment of truck drivers with valid permits.

ALSO READ: Zimbabwean parents worry about learners’ move from schools in SA

Among the reasons given by Motsoaledi for the latest two-year extension are budgetary constraints, the unknown outcome of the appeal in the Helen Suzman Foundation case in the Supreme Court of Appeal, and “the need to avoid unfair and differential treatment of the same category of foreigners in similar circumstances”.

Border control

Motsoaledi’s statement appears to be part of his recently announced campaign to overhaul border control and immigration laws, which is in part responsible for a flood of illegal immigrants, estimated at anything between five and 13 million people, with just 15 000-20 000 illegals being deported annually, according to the Home Affairs White Paper on citizenship, immigration, and refugee protection.

A recent article by Loren B Landau and Rebecca Walker in The Conversation points out that it is replete with delusions and that claims of five to 13 million immigrants have been debunked by the Stats SA Census 2022, which shows the total number of foreign-born residents (including exiles, spouses, investors, and others) is close to 2.4 million – around 4% of the total population of 62 million.

ALSO READ: Home affairs decision ‘makes you wonder what SA really owes Zimbabwe’

“Immigration can be a challenge. But this does not explain why South Africans spend days without light, water, jobs, or hope of addressing economic inequality. Immigrants are not the reason why the health service is failing or infrastructure is crumbling. And immigrants are not responsible for most of the country’s crime,” say Landau and Walker.

“Missing too from the White Paper is a grounded discussion of how mobility and immigration schemes can meet skills gaps, promote investment, and create jobs across the region. Whether in the US or South Africa, most careful research suggests immigration has positive economic effects.”

This article was republished from Moneyweb. Read the original here

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