Transcript copy: Briefing by Minister Dlamini Zuma regarding Immigration Amendment Bill, Imbizo Media Centre, 120 Plein Street, Cape Town
22 Mar 2011
Comments by Home Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen of the media. Let me just give you a bit of context to the Immigration Amendment Bill.
Our outlook towards immigration is that it should follow the country’s priorities and therefore, in our case now, it should support job creation and all other aspects that a priority to the country. Our visa regime should also look at how to encourage tourism in the country. We must for instance, look at various parts of the world and see where we need to encourage tourism to South Africa. Perhaps tourists are travelling to South Africa from other countries but our visa regime is making things difficult. So we need to look at this.
When we look at job creation – we need to look at bringing in the relevant skills, critical skills that are needed for economic growth and therefore, our immigration should also take this into account.
Our education facilities are open to the rest of the world but especially in the region. Therefore our permitting and visas should also reflect that we are making things easy for students who want to come to South Africa to study. This is the context.
But we are also aware of the abuses of our immigration policy, instances where our openness has been abused. There have also been instances of corruption. You will know this very well because the British imposed visas on South Africa at the beginning of 2009, as did the Swiss, because they could no longer be certain that South African passport holders were indeed South African. And some countries were saying we were a weak link because of these abuses. So, obviously we have to take this into account and close the loopholes that allowed such activities to happen easily.
Therefore, the bill looks at a variety of issues. One of the areas we have identified as a weak link is the use of immigration practitioners to apply for our permits and documents. We have no mandate or intention of closing any business because businesses open without permission from Home Affairs. We will therefore not be closing down the businesses of immigration practitioners. What we would like is to be able to know who is applying for what service, to whom we are issuing permits and visas because up to now, we have been issuing to permits we do not know. We are not even aware if the person to whom we have issued the permit is in South Africa or is in another country. So we feel that yes, immigration practitioners can continue to consult but eventually applicants must come to us.
Coupled with this, we are going to make the application for permits for businesses that we know, businesses that are known, easy, to bring is skills and so on. So this is really to try to correct things that brought our visa-free status to an end in some countries.
But it is also looking at the abuses by the people who come into South Africa. We have a lot of people who come in as tourists, spend a lot of money, enjoy our country and then return to their countries of origin; honouring the agreement between ourselves and them through the visa they were granted. The majority of tourists are very disciplined and do not break our rules. There is however, a significant amount, a critical mass of foreigners who enter South Africa and when they are here on a visitor’s visa or a medical visa, they want to change their status while they are in the country.
Perhaps they got married in a short space of time and they now want to change their status to that of an accompanying spouse. And they do not want to go back home. We find it strange that someone can come to South Africa on a visitor’s visa for a month and suddenly they do not want to return home ever. They now want to remain forever in South Africa.
We are saying that if such people want to change their status, this is fine with us but they have to go back home and apply for the relevant permits to re-enter South Africa. And it is mainly those who come to South Africa on visitors or medical visa and they exploit this loophole. The Bill is intended to close this loophole.
But for people to come to South Africa on a business visa or investors visa or student visa, they are not affected by this. A student can study and once they have completed their PhD and decide to pursue a career in South Africa, they can apply for the relevant visa to do so. We are not saying that such categories cannot change their status. We are saying this applies particularly to those people who come to South Africa for a month and then want to remain forever without even returning to their country’s to pack up.
Whereas most business people are welcome, there may be those from time to time that have been identified as priority by DTi and we must prioritise their entry into South Africa. Of course, Parliament has amended this so I will not go into this. But this was our intention. We will not be shutting others out but from time to time, we will prioritise those that have been identified as priority areas.
Other areas that we are looking at are really the APP – the Advanced Passenger Processing – we had already begun with this in 2010. But we are now making sure it is in the law because it was voluntary in 2010 and no law obliged anyone to accede to this. We want this to be in our laws because if we need this in future, we will not need to beg each airline to support this. This is why we are now including it in the law.
Then there was another issue of section 23 – section 23 is a very temporary permit that we give to people who come to our ports of entry and say they want to apply for asylum in South Africa. They are then given a section 23 permit which was valid for 14 days. They could remain in the country for 14 days during which they could report to a Refugee Reception Office. We are saying that 14 days is too long because we have seen how this in itself gets abused – before the person applies for refugee status, they are already wanting to change their status.We are now saying that we are giving them 5 days – an asylum seeker can reach a refugee reception office within 5 days from the time to reach a port of entry. It should not take you more than 5 days to reach a refugee centre. From a port of entry, it should not take you longer than 24 hours to reach a refugee centre.
There is no country in the world that grants section 23 permits without some questions being asked. We have experienced situations where fugitives from the law are granted such permits – it then becomes a huge problem to deal with them. We just want to be sure that the person to whom we are giving such a permit is not a fugitive from the law. So, we are not going to assess extensively whether the person qualifies or not, this will still be done at the asylum centre but obviously, some preliminary questions must be asked.
These were the main things. There are some minor issues – like the changing of the definition of permits to visas because in South Africa we were calling everything a permit and people were interpreting a permit as something more permanent than a permit. We are therefore just aligning ourselves to international law where we refer to visas rather than permits.
The penalties for contravening our immigration law were just too lenient and the courts were therefore interpreting that immigration transgressions were not a very serious matter.
These are the main things contained in the Amendment Bill.
Questions and Answers
Question: Minister, this is the Bill which indicates some changes have been made – could you tell us about these changes and why you are not happy with them?
Answer: It is not for me to be happy for not. The Parliamentarians make the law.The only part with which I have a bit of a problem is the one where we are talking about priority businesses. Now I understand that this has been changed to undesirable businesses. So, you cannot call people who are doing business in South Africa, undesirable, even if they are in areas that have been identified as priority businesses. This is the only thing that is making me a bit unhappy.
The other changes are not too material.The penalties have been reduced a bit. When we said that people should not change their status, they asked us to identify which ones were problematic and I did not have problem with this. So we identified those that should not be subjected to the change of status.
The majority of visitors are ok and do not create any problems for us. It is just a minority of visitors that present challenges although they are a significant minority. The only one about which I am unsure is the one that refers to undesirable businesses.
Question: Minister, you mentioned you would make it easier for businesses that are known to you to bring in skills – what do you mean by this? Can you also please elaborate on how the penalties have been changed?
Answer: Maybe I phrased this incorrectly – not businesses that are known to me but businesses that are known to Department of Trade and Industry (DTi) and the Department of Home Affairs. There are currently about 72 such businesses that are already in this category. We refer to them as large accounts.
We want to invite more businesses who want to have this kind of interaction with us so that we make it easy. It must be a business that is known to DTI or government because we cannot have those that are fly by night establishments or those wanting to launder their money and now we will be facilitating these activities. This is what I meant when I said know to us.
The Deputy Director-General (DDG) will give you the information on the penalties a bit later. There are too many to mention.
Question: Minister, you talked about immigration practitioners – that they will not be allowed to continue as usual. How many practitioners are we talking about and what was the extent of the corruption you had uncovered?
Answer: Let’s get this very straight – immigration practitioners – the only thing that we do not want is for them to come to our offices and apply for their clients rather than their clients themselves. When people come to our offices, it should be the person applying for the service.
As for them rendering services, we have no control over their businesses nor do we intend to have control over their businesses. So, I want you to be very clear about this.
I do not know how many immigration practitioners there are – there are a lot of them – some people render other services in addition to these, some do this full time, some are lawyers who practice law while doing this as well. They however send messengers to our offices with the applications and it is this that we do not want. There was quite a bit of corruption that caused concern.
Question: Minister, you talked about visitors who come for a month and want to stay forever. Would you say that many of these fall into the category of economic migrants? With the new law increasing the penalties – how will government pay for this?
Are you concerned about any possible law suits from human rights groups for incarcerating foreign nationals with hardened criminals? Have you considered immediate deportation rather than keeping them in prison at the expense to the taxpayer?
Answer: If you break our immigration law, it is an offence in our law so I think laws are laws and they should be adhered to so I do not see why you should not be punished if you break immigration laws. Why do we have such laws then? Why do we not have a free for all? But if there is a law that if you have a visa for 30 days you may not stay for longer than 30 days without an extension. I do not think we will be violating any human rights if we expect people to adhere to the law.
The whole world does this – if I travel to a particular country and if I have been granted a visa for 10 days and if, for whatever reason, I stay longer than 10 days I need to apply for an extension and say why.
I do not know how much it will cost the State – I just hope that people will not break the law deliberately hoping that we will not arrest them because it is too expensive.
If you look at the law, it refers to habitual offenders – it does not refer to a person who breaks the law for the first time.
Question: Minister, can the department blame asylum seekers, especially those who receive bad service at these reception centres – will they be breaking the law?
Answer: This is not about asylum seekers but if you want me to talk about asylum seekers, all I can say is that we are reviewing this process because we have lots of backlogs. This is why we introduced the Refugee Amendment Bill last week to try and streamline the processes involved in applying for refugee status so that asylum seekers do not have to visit our offices repeatedly and also so that many do not have to wait for long periods for their appeals to be finalised. If we can streamline these processes, there will be fewer people coming to our offices. So, no one is blaming them and this bill is certainly not about asylum seekers.
Question: Minister, semantics aside, about the undesirable phrase – if I understand the Bill correctly, it is the role of the Minister, Deputy Minister and Director-General (DG) to draft the regulations. What kinds of businesses will be considered undesirable?
Answer: I am not sure since I did not draft this document. What we as the department wanted to know are the sectors being prioritised by the DTI since we did not want to delay the economic development of the country. There are thousands and thousands of businesses. If we say these are the areas we want the department to concentrate on because these are the priority areas, then these are the areas we want to concentrate on.
Question: Minister, then clearly the MPs has misunderstood the objective of this Bill because they were referring to things like brothels. This is therefore why they changed the wording to undesirable.
Answer: The department wanted the Department of Trade and Industry to give us a list of the areas we need to fastrack, those that have been prioritised in terms of the country’s economic development.
The intention of the bill, as it now stands, following inputs from the MPs, is that we must facilitate everybody unless those referred to as undesirable from DTi. But if everything is a priority, nothing ends up being a priority. This was our contention. It is very well to say we must facilitate everyone equally but there must be priority areas because we do not have endless resources.
Part of immigration is the ability to fastrack certain areas to facilitate the economic growth of the country. Or we need this for cultural development.
We may have businesses that are quite desirable but we have enough of these skills in the country. Why should we be facilitating the entry of such businesses into South Africa, at the expense of skills in our own country, to the detriment of areas where we do not have skills.
This was our approach to the Bill. Now, even if an area is not a priority, even if we have more than enough of this skill in the country, we still need to facilitate them because they are not undesirable, if you see what I mean.
Question: Minister, in the absence of an all encompassing national immigration policy, which I understand will only be developed in the next year or so, is this Bill not a piece of patchwork on a punctured bicycle tyre?
Answer: Then it means you do not understand immigration or the role of immigration in a country’s development. You can never have a static immigration policy in any country, because immigration must follow a country’s national priorities.When national priorities change, you will have to change.
You may have a paradigm approach towards immigration but the nitty gritty of that policy must follow the national priorities.
For instance, if we say tourism is a priority, and most of our tourists come from the continent which is now the case, then our visa regime cannot be difficult especially for people we want to attract as tourists. Immigration policy therefore changes over time. There is nothing you can say is rigid about immigration policy. If we need to strengthen our rugby squad and we think there is an excellent player from a different country that will add value to our squad and the rugby board wants to expedite his naturalisation, then we cannot say this is not in the country’s immigration policy to naturalise a rugby player. Immigration must therefore follow a country’s national priorities.
The paradigm is that, yes South Africa is an open country and we will facilitate those who want to come to our country, but we have to make sure there are checks and balances for troublemakers – drug dealers, human trafficking, money launderers.
This will be the broad paradigm from which we operate. If South Africa suddenly trains a huge number of engineers, then obviously our immigration policy will not reflect the need to go out and recruit chemical engineers since we have enough of these. But if we are short of electrical engineers – if Eskom says there is a shortage and they cannot train enough, then obviously we have to go out and recruit. You cannot therefore have a rigid, inflexible policy. Your police must accommodate what your country needs. The trouble comes when you have something rigid that does not accommodate such changes in national interest.
Question: Minister, what is the status of government business – how will they fit into this if they require nurses or teachers?
Answer: If the Education Department says they are recruiting teachers from a particular part of the world, our duty is to facilitate this. We provide permits and visas, we provide permits while they are in the country. If Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) says we do not have enough engineers for local government and we are recruiting them generally from any part of the world and specifically from a particular country, then it is our duty to facilitate this. Our responsibility is to ensure that our immigration policy has in place what it needs to facilitate the requirements of our country. If we need doctors and the Department of Health wants to recruit them generally, this is fine, if they want to recruit them specifically from a particular country, then this is also fine.We must ensure that we are not an obstacle to that recruitment.
Question: Minister, will that department be one of the 72 known entities or will DTI declare this a priority area?
Answer: Government departments are not subjected to either of these options. They just to inform us that they are recruiting doctors, nurses, etc. from which particular part of the world and all they would need is to give us the names of people they have recruited that require work permits while they are in the country. We will do this.
Question: Minister, I’m still concerned about asylum seekers. It is common cause that the Khoi-San who fought in the South African Defence Force (SADF) in the Caprivi are persecuted. If one of them arrives in South Africa, penniless, will five days be enough to reach a refugee reception office?
Answer: Let us get this very straight – those who fought against Koevoet and some in Battalion 32 were given citizenship in the 1990s. There was a request from the Defence Force for them to be given citizenship. So where will they be arriving from if they are in the country, I am not sure I understand.
We must discuss their persecution with the Namibians. If he arrives through the border he receives a section 23 permit. If he says he has no money, we can look at this. But we cannot make a law for exceptions.
Issued by: Department of Home Affairs
22 Mar 2011
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