Clarity on Zimbabwe exemption permits deadline in South Africa; new Home Affairs minister gets flake for ‘soft’ stance

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By Agencies

THE National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA) on Thursday provided clarity for all affected parties on the relevant deadlines and periods of validity of the the Zimbabwean exemption permits (ZEP) dispensation.

There are more than a million Zimbabweans living in South Africa, according to South Africa’s census data.

It said for the current holders of the original ZEPs, the deadline has been extended and was valid until November 29, 2024.

Current holders of the original ZEPs were entitled to apply for new exemption permits, while new exemption permits issued were valid until November 29, 2025.

It said the original ZEP holders who had already applied for waivers and for other mainstream visas did not have to apply for the “new” exemption permits; and therefore, if an original ZEP holder had applied for a waiver and a mainstream visa, he/she would be allowed to remain and be employed in South Africa, until they receive the outcome of their applications.

Holders of the original ZEPs have had the option to apply for new exemption permits or waiver applications in order to apply for general work visas, if they had not done so already, Neasa said.

“Employers and the ZEP holders are encouraged to consult an immigration specialist to determine which permit or visa is most suitable and to apply timeously, so as not to run out of time before the expiration date of the current permits in November 2024,” it advised.

New Home Affairs Minister, Leon Shcreiber

Meanwhile, amid increasing calls for new Minister of Home Affairs Leon Schreiber to reverse his decision to extend the deadline for visa applications, ActionSA has called for him to prioritise jobs for South Africans.

Last week, a day after being sworn in, Schreiber extended the temporary concession for foreign nationals who are awaiting the outcome of visa, waiver and appeal applications.

The extension safeguards applicants, including those who are contributing to South Africa through their scarce skills, from suffering adverse consequences or being erroneously declared undesirable while they await the outcome of applications submitted to the department.

“The decision to avert adverse consequences for applicants who seek to obtain lawful visas in order to contribute to South Africa, either through their skills or as tourists, signals the minister’s commitment to improving the visa system to make South Africa a more attractive destination for international investment, tourism and job creation,” the Department of Home Affairs said in a statement.

At the weekend, a new petition seeking to stop the minister from extending applications, penned by an individual who identified himself as Kaneth Smollan, said the minister’s decision was not in favour of the country’s interest.

“Patriotic South Africans, Let’s stop Leon Schreiber, the DA minister of home affairs, from extending working visas for immigrants. This is an insult to the work done by his predecessor former minister Aaron Motsoaledi who worked hard to fix the mess done by the government, which contributes to high unemployment rate as companies are hiring immigrants because they are cheap labour. And most of them are not skilled, some have just faked qualifications from their countries,” the petition read.

On Sunday, ActionSA caucus leader in the National Assembly Lerato Ngobeni also slammed the minister for having begun this process on the first day after being sworn in, adding that ActionSA was opposed to the minister’s swift decision in extending the temporary concessions.

“Home Affairs Minister Leon Schreiber’s first act was to extend temporary concessions for foreign nationals’ visas, along with public statements outlining priorities for improving work visa processes, ActionSA implores the minister to address the urgent crisis of illegal immigration with equal vigour and make it a top priority,” Ngobeni said.

Last week, Schreiber said the decision to extend these concessions was to attract business and skills investment into the country and was in line with making South Africa competitive in a bid to ensure economic growth.

However, Ngobeni as well as the African Transformation Movement (ATM) and other parties are not convinced of the minister’s argument.

Ngobeni added that Schreiber would do well to understand that the widespread corruption and mismanagement that has plagued the Department of Home Affairs has allowed criminal elements to exploit South Africa’s legal visa regime.

“This illegality has contributed to the proliferation of drugs and illicit goods in South Africa, necessitating urgent strengthening of our borders and immigration controls. If the minister’s intention is to put the interests of South Africans first, he must prioritise the crisis of illegal immigration with the same urgency as he highlights the issue of work visas,” she said.

ActionSA said the country’s spiralling crime rate as well as the numbers of unemployment among South Africans can be attributed to the porous borders as more and more illegal immigrants flood the country.

“The spiralling crime rates linked to foreign crime syndicates operating with near impunity, and the widespread exploitation of cheap foreign labour in an already constrained labour market that has left millions of South Africans without job opportunities, are consequences of our flawed immigration system. With expanding terror networks across the African continent, South Africa cannot afford to be lax in allowing undocumented individuals to roam freely across our country without trace,” Ngobeni added.

Last Thursday, the ATM in a statement said the decision by the minister undermined skilled South Africans who are overlooked by employers who want to empower foreigners over locals.

“The African Transformation Movement (ATM) notes with grave concern the recent announcement by Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Leon Schreiber, extending the temporary concession for foreign nationals awaiting visa, waiver, and appeal outcomes. This decision demonstrates a blatant disregard for the well-being and economic prospects of South Africans.

“Minister Schreiber’s policy not only opens our borders, but also undermines the efforts of skilled South African workers. This concession allows an influx of foreign nationals, competing for limited job opportunities while our unemployment rates remain alarmingly high. With unemployment being one of the most pressing issues facing our country, it is imperative that we prioritise South African workers. This policy neglects the need to protect local jobs and exacerbates economic challenges,” the ATM said.

However, responding to increasing criticism from the ATM and other parties, Schreiber described calls for him to reverse his decision to extend visa and waiver applications as “ignorant”.

“f I were this ignorant, I’d be a little more careful not to advertise it. The concession applies to legal visa holders who are already contributing to South Africa through tourism, investment and skills, and who are waiting for Home Affairs to process legal renewals, waivers or appeals due to a big backlog we are tackling.

“The days of unchallenged fake news peddling are over. The time for the rule of law and unlocking economic growth to create jobs, has arrived,” the minister said through his X account at the weekend.