Zimbabweans in SA in limbo over ZEPs waiver applications
With less than six months before the Zimbabwean Exemption Permits (ZEPs) expire, holders who applied for waivers are waiting with bated breath for feedback from the South African government.
The African Diaspora Global Network, a migrant-rights organisation located in South Africa, claims the South African government has said nothing further about the extension or responded to new applications.
“The major news we had was in October, where the court hearing to challenge the termination (launched by the Helen Suzman Foundation) was postponed to the beginning of February this year after the Minister of Home Affairs said they still need more time to prepare,” said Dr Vusumuzi Sibanda, the leader of the network.
Having said that, Dr Sibanda remarked Zimbabweans were practically in the dark regarding their fate when it came to applying for necessary visas in South Africa.
“According to the Minister of Home Affairs, less than 9 000 people in total made applications for either waivers or mainstream permits. But up to date, since people started applying in 2021, they have not received any decision whatsoever,” said the activist.
“The Department of Home Affairs has not said anything.”
According to Dr Sibanda, the process of applying for new permits is challenging, as South Africa’s regulations state applicants must have scarce skills to be granted permits.
“People were told they need to apply for mainstream visas so those that qualify should stay, meaning people can apply for the work visas. Applying for a work visa ideally means one has scarce skills but according to the new rules and regulations, it doesn’t mean you must only have a scarce skill but have a permanent job and a company that has offered the permanent job,” he explained.
“That company must have also advertised that job and found nobody in South Africa who can fill in that particular position. This is the main visa that people must qualify for because the general visa no longer exists in South Africa, unless one has a relative visa, where you’ve been married in South Africa.”
Dr Sibanda said such regulations were difficult because when the majority of people applied for the ZEPs in 2009 they could not qualify for any other visa.
“To expect that there is a change now is actually a non-starter because it is known the reason why people were given ZEPs is they could not qualify for any other visa. Otherwise, they would have applied for them,” he highlighted, adding that the conditions and requirements for visas in 2009 were more relaxed than after the amendment of the Immigration Act in 2014.
“Normally when you apply for a waiver, you waive one requirement. In this case, it would mean if these waivers are granted, everything will be waived which actually is as good as giving out that very same ZEP.”
This makes no sense, he says, because there would be no purpose in ceasing the same ZEPs if the authorities had to waive the same conditions.
Another big challenge, according to Dr Sibanda, was the extension announced by the South African government was verbal and published in a gazette but was not reflected on the holders’ passports.
This was causing difficulties for holders since some were arrested and spent time in prison while their ZEPs were being verified.
“If you are arrested the matter may be postponed for seven days so that Home Affairs can ascertain whether your permit is valid or not. Some people are losing their jobs because employers now cannot keep them in employment when they don’t see any valid visa and because of the new laws from the Department of Labour that prohibit the employment of foreigners,” he said.
The difficulties grew worse as some Zimbabweans lost their banking accounts.
“Banks are closing those accounts and holding on to people’s money yet employers continue transferring money into those accounts,” said Dr Sibanda.
He claimed the banks would not release the money, demanding that Zimbabwean nationals bring valid passports.
“People are earning but cannot access that money and are unable to support their families. On the one hand, there are people also trying to get their UIF to show they have been working but because of documentation challenges that money cannot be given,” summed the activist.