Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi caused some confusion this week by claiming that his department was not exacerbating South Africa’s skills crisis because there was no backlog of visas.
This comment came just a few weeks after the minister told parliament that the department was sitting with a backlog of over 74,000 visa applications that would only be cleared up by mid-2024.
In an interview this week, Motsoaledi dismissed criticism that his department is causing a skills crisis in the country by failing to process work-permit applications and said it’s becoming a “scapegoat” for the failures of business.
The minister said there’s no backlog of critical-skills applications and said his department is working expeditiously to process requests in the pipeline.
According to Marisa Jacobs, an immigration specialist at Xpatweb, the good news is that the minister is correct in saying there is currently no skills or work visa backlog.
Jacobs said the department has been fast-tracking applications that have been correctly submitted and are fully compliant.
“In stark contrast to the waiting periods for other categories, work visas and study visas are processed within four weeks by the Department of Home Affairs Head Office,” she said.
However, this does not mean that all is well with this category of visa, she said.
“Work visas submitted at the South African High Commissions and Embassies abroad are subject to their own processing times, and we are seeing inconsistent processing times depending on country of submission,” said Jacobs.
This is amplified by many offices with a new rotation of officials in the immigration seat still settling in, combined with high volumes of applications pushing the processing times over the estimated period, causing frustration.
“There is also a higher rate of rejection, where Head Office processes the application and this means that the applicant must submit an appeal, causing a backlog on a work visa of more than 12 months,” she said.
The same can be said for waiver applications in support of a General Work Visa application, where the processing time is set at a minimum of 12 months.
“In summary, while work visas are prioritised, and we are consistently seeing good processing times – but there are a variety of exceptions, and this fuels frustration among expats,” Jacobs said.
Visa chaos is still there
Regarding the backlog of tens of thousands of visas, the bad news is that there is still a massive backlog, and several categories are impacted.
These include Permanent Residency applications, Waivers, Appeals, Retired person visas, and visitor’s visas for spouses and dependents.
While not related to work visas, these categories are experiencing an “unprecedented backlog”, where applicants can end up waiting 18 months or longer.
“These applicants are often deeply personally impacted by the backlog, and following a legal route is often the only way to get a legally correct outcome,” Jacobs said.
Motsoaledi told parliament this month that his department has developed a “backlog eradication plan” which aims to have the backlogs cleared by June 2024.
“The plan aims to move the older Temporary Residency Visas applications from 2022 concurrently with the current applications of 2023. This will be done by splitting the temporary residence visa team into two,” he said.
The same approach is being implemented for Permanent Residence Permits, he said.
“The plan includes the utilisation of current capacity in the Immigration Branch supported by the additional officials from other branches, including those in provinces. It also includes those officials who have returned from the Foreign Missions after serving their four-year deployment term.”
Other options to supplement existing capacity and resources are also being looked at and may be implemented should it be deemed necessary to do so to support the eradication plan.
“The Department is also reviewing the immigration permitting delegations as well as Standard Operating Procedures,” he said.