INTERNATIONAL students may find themselves stuck in South Africa due to home affairs bureaucracy and are facing the prospect of homelessness in the coming winter.
Last month the university advised international students the department of home affair (DHA) had changed the rules affecting travelling in and out of the country while they are waiting for their study permits to come through.

Previously international students could show a receipt from their study permit application to travel outside the country.

The recent home affairs’ statement read: “Foreigners will no longer be able to travel with the receipt and will be considered in contravention of the Immigration Act should they decide to depart from South Africa whilst their applications are still pending and their current visas expired. They will also be subjected to an administrative fine for overstaying their visa conditions.”
Wits Vuvuzela asked International Students Office (ISO) manager Gita Patel about the university’s role in helping international students who could be left stranded and possibly homeless during the mid-semester break.
Patel said the university is trying to get the regional DHA to quickly process all the study permits that are submitted to them. She encouraged international students with pending permits to follow up on their applications. The ISO had sent DHA a list of pending permits but as a third party cannot follow individual applications.

“If there is a student that is having difficulty getting any response they are welcome to come and see me, however I do need copies of the application and the supporting documents before I can do anything,” she said.

However, many international students told Wits Vuvuzela they did not make copies of their applications before submission and only had their receipts.

“The processes are just too time consuming. The forms are given there (DHA) and you will be under so much pressure to get them and fill them in, get the medicals and radiology reports done that you hardly have time to breathe, let alone make copies of everything. Because you only need the receipt to register, that’s all you will be looking toward,” said a Wits international student.

[pullquote]These students are facing homelessness in the coming winter months.[/pullquote]

Patel told Wits Vuvuzela that making copies of applications was the students’ responsibility and she would only help those students who needed to return home for “emergencies” not for winter break.

“As students you are supposed to make copies of everything. If the office needs to assist a student that desperately needs to travel—I’m talking emergencies, not going home for holidays—then I need those copies.”

But while going home for winter break may not be an emergency, many international students have found themselves in dire straits. Some students are on bursaries that only cover their academic terms and Wits residences are closed during holidays. These students are facing homelessness in the coming winter months.

Wits Vuvuzela contacted the department of home affairs for comment but had not received a response in time for publication.

Bureaucratic delays at DHA have impacted heavily on students because they have to wait for a long time to receive a study permit.
Sometimes even when they receive the permit it contains mistakes. A returning University of Johannesburg student told Wits Vuvuzela that he waited over eight months for his study permit and when it finally came out, it had the wrong name in it.

He said when he took it back, “they made it seem like it was my fault. After a lot of complaining they took it back and fixed it.”

Babongile Pswarai, a former University of Cape Town student, said she encountered a similar problem with the staff at DHA when she was issued a permit after it had expired.

“I submitted my application in January 2013 and registered with the receipt. They [DHA] finally gave me my study permit only in January 2014 and it had already expired,” she said.

Pswarai said when she asked them what she was supposed to do with an expired permit, they told her she had to show them the receipts in order to assist her.

However, Pswarai had just given those receipts to another home affairs clerk who had given her the expired permit. She had to stand in the previous queue to ask for her receipts back.

“So I went back, stood in that awful line and the lady behind the desk gave me attitude. She said I should speak to her nicely otherwise she won’t help me. And then she handed me her bin and told me to look for my receipt in there,” she said.

Pswarai was forced to rummage through the bin to find her receipts. Even after finding the receipt, home affairs still refused to help her and instructed her to go to the Beitbridge border post to get a new stamp in her passport.