Cape Town – The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is overwhelmed by a visa backlog crisis of 40 365 applications for permanent and temporary residence.
Minister Aaron Motsoaledi revealed these numbers in a parliamentary response to DA MP Adrian Roos.
The minister said the delays dated back to 2016 and were exacerbated by Covid-19 travel restrictions and the pandemic-induced state of disaster.
Roos had posed a question about the current visa processing backlog and the details of DHA plans to eradicate it.
Leading immigration expert Stefanie de Saude Darbandi told the Cape Argus that billionaires, directors of multi-national corporations and others have had their applications pending in the backlog since 2016.
De Saude Darbandi said she has had more than 500 cases in the backlog, and the problem had worsened.
Motsoaledi said: “We did accumulate a lot of backlogs during the state of disaster as some services, such as applications for permanent and temporary residence, were closed due to the fact that international travel was suspended.”
He said Covid-19 regulations forced the department to slash staff numbers to allow for social distancing.
“We have accumulated the following backlogs, which also include those outstanding since 2016: 40365 (sic),” Motsoaledi said.
To resolve the visas logjam, Motsoaledi said, 18 additional adjudicators started training on March 1 and were expected to only start working to eradicate the backlog on April 1.
He said the department had roped in managers from several provinces to help with quality control.
“We are currently reviewing the immigration permitting delegations as well as (the) SOPs (standard operating procedures),” Motsoaledi said.
De Saude Darbandi said Motsoaledi had “no urgency” to deal with foreigners coming into South Africa.
She said Covid-19 could have contributed to the pile-up, but it wasn’t the cause as before the lockdown started there were applications that were in the system for four years.
De Saude Darbandi said Motsoaledi’s department was short-staffed, had no regard for power of attorney and didn’t comply with court orders, among other issues.
“To this day I meet people who say: ‘I submitted my application in 2012 for permanent residence and I still don’t have an outcome’,” she said.
This is despite the case DG Department of Home Affairs v De Saude Attorneys, which dealt with De Saude Attorneys’ application to compel the department to process applications and appeals within the structure of the Immigration Act and the SA Citizenship Act after delays.
In that case, a judge wrote that the minister and DHA’s permitting chief director’s approach, “in a word, is unconscionable, especially coming from a state department. It could also, rightly, be described as disgraceful”.