Chris Fick & Associates

A4blThe new Immigration Regulations were gazetted on 22 May and came into effect on 26 May 2014. You’ve no doubt heard about some of the changes; children have to have their own passports, people with visas can’t change their status without leaving the country and the exceedingly strict new rules pertaining to work visas and spousal visas.

The changes to the spousal visa serves to illustrate some of the obtuseness of the new legislation –  under the new regulations initial applications will have to be done in your country of origin and only renewal can be done in the Republic. Any foreign national wanting to marry will need to do the initial application in their country of origin or where they permanently reside. This proves to be unnecessarily expensive as both the applicant and the South African spouse will have to travel to the applicant’s country of origin. This and the requirement of 2 years of cohabitation and proof of shared financial responsibilities may be an unreasonable limitation to the right to a family as provided in section 28 of the Constitution.

What people seem to be less informed about is the shadow Home Affairs that will now be part of our application process. Despite upgrades to buildings and staff contingents in South Africa’s Home Affairs department, all visas and permits applications must now be done through a private company, VFS Global. Applicants will need to first complete an online application form and book an appointment to submit their documents in person. You then pay them R1350, and they take the documents that you filled in and send them to Home Affairs for you. That’s it. They will take your fingerprints for you; this will be a new formality.

VFS Global has no influence on the outcome of any visa or permit application. They first subject your application to a check before transmitting it to the Department of Home Affairs Head Office in Pretoria. They have no authority to issue or deny any visa or permit application. They offer no immigration advisory services and applicants will need to consult with an attorney or immigration consultant to make sure they have the correct documents and apply for the appropriate visa or permit category.  VFS Global is just an intermediary between individual applicants and the Department with no advisory or support services. In effect, VFS will be doing part of what district and provincial departmental staff used to do, while charging R1350 per application as their service fee in addition to the normal departmental fee.

All this begs the question – where is the value? Will we see a decrease in employees at Home Affairs and at least receive a slightly lower tax bill? It would seem not. Will the process be faster or more efficient? Again, while the documents will be digitized and sent to Pretoria, avoiding the front of house Home Affairs Officials, there is no indication that specialized training or more staff have been provided to attend to the digital deluge. Will there be any benefit to South African citizens? Well, Home Affairs doesn’t particularly like being asked this question, and when pushed will mumble something about safety and security. To evaluate the plausibility of the argument we need to examine VFS Global’s business.

VFS Global does document handling for 45 countries: US, Canada, Western and Eastern Europe, Russia China, Indian and Australia. The most notable commonality relating to their clients is that they all enjoy an exchange rate roughly 10 times stronger than our currency, or the countries were where the company started. These wealthier countries use the service to compensate with the documented corruption and fraud that is prolific in the Home Affairs departments in many of the countries from whence people are applying for visas. So, at first glance, it does seem that there are some reasonable grounds to point at security concerns being mitigated through the service. However many of the people visiting SA for work or pleasure, or here as refugees, are here because the SA government has “invited” them to participate in the African Renaissance at the Gateway to Africa.

This does create ethical problems. We have left our borders open and extended our laws and our Constitution to cover anyone who is within our borders, whether a citizen or not. We encouraged people to leave their homes and start their lives here. Now, they will have to pay at least twice what they used to, in order to have the same piece of paper processed in a slightly longer time. Home Affairs will cost the tax payer what it always has, and has no need to improve their skills or services to the public. While the Competition Commission is investigating the possibility of monopoly in the appointment, and there have been no noises about inconsistencies in the tender process as yet, it is quite likely that this process will stay as it is.

Will this affect you, the South African citizen? Well, probably not directly. Those of you with children will have to get their passports, those of you who have businesses that employ foreign nationals will have your hands full, and those of you who conduct business in SA will find it increasingly difficult to do without spending a lot of time and money applying for SA visas. We’ll shoot fewer films and TV shows, host fewer conferences and our beleaguered reputation will take another hit. Whether or not you choose to embrace it is, as ever, entirely up to you.

Article by George Mua ( and Richard Keeton (

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