Delayed study permits hinder international students registration

More than 30 international students are still unable to register for the 2018 academic year at Wits University as they have not yet received study permits.

The Student Representative Council (SRC) deputy president, Tshenolo Leshika, told Wits Vuvuzela that students the approached his organisation, the International Students Office and the Wits Zimbabwe Society for assistance.

Leshika said although the Zimbabwean students were the most affected, students from Swaziland had had similar issues earlier in the semester.

“The issues are being handled in the same way. It might just take slightly longer with the Zimbabwean students because of the volume issue,” Leshika said.

“We are liaising with the office of International Students, and they are communicating with Home Affairs and the embassy to speed up the process. We’re pleased with the cooperation we’re getting from the office of International Students and their willingness to go above and beyond for the student body. We are reaching out to faculties to allow these students to register late,” said Leshika.

Tinashe Dzinoreva, a student unable to register for his first-year of BA Law said he had applied for his permit on January 20. “I thought I’d be at school by now. I went to the Visa Facilitation Services Global (VFS) to ask what was the problem and they said they don’t know. I also found lots of other people in the same situation. We are just waiting, sitting at home and there’s not much we can do.”

VFS administers the visa applications so students don’t go directly to the embassy anymore.

Dzinoreva is hopeful that the SRC’s advice to get in touch with his faculty and plead his case will work. “I sent an email to the Faculty of Humanities on Friday [February 23] to ask for permission to register late but I haven’t gotten feedback yet,” he said.

The Faculty of Humanities told Wits Vuvuzela that the official deadline for late registration for their students was February 12.

Wits University’s Senior Communications Officer, Buhle Zuma said, “By law, the University is not permitted to register international students who do not have a valid study visa. The Wits International Students Office has been in contact with officials at the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to highlight the challenges faced by applicants. The Office requested intervention from the DHA as they are the custodians of the Immigration Act. The University permitted late registration for students who were experiencing delays; these were also specific faculty requirements. Students should check with their Faculty for the last possible date. It is not in the student’s academic interest to register late as many classes have already commenced with tests and other assessments.”

Zuma told Wits Vuvuzela that this is not an unusual occurrence. “In previous years, there has always been a backlog at the South African Embassy in Zimbabwe; this is mainly due to the high volume of applications submitted. To expedite the process the DHA deploys additional staff in Pretoria to assist. In 2018, the South African High Commission in Swaziland introduced new requirements for study visa applications which were outside of the standard check list,” she said.

International Students Office’s manager, Gita Patel, said, “The returning students should have applied for renewals here in South Africa and always have the correct supporting documents when they apply for new or renewal of visa. The faculties have to agree because you also don’t want to disadvantage the student. It’s already three weeks into the term and some courses may have already covered a lot.”

Tafadzwa Chikanya 20, a student unable to register for her BCom Honours told Wits Vuvuzela that she is also one of many struggling to get her study permit. “I hear that there is a go slow happening with either the South African Embassy and/or the Zimbabwean embassy. I know of people who applied for their visa on the 10/11th of January and already got theirs last week yet I applied for mine on the 9th of January and I am still not sure when I will actually get it.

“The past two weeks I have contacted the SRC and they have tried to help. Previously we had asked for our respective faculties and International Students Office to extend our registration dates. They agreed to extend mostly up until February 28, although some faculties are not allowing this. For my programme I have been given up until March 2, to explain what is going on. My faculty accepted my reasons and they haven’t really expressly allowed me to register late but there has been ongoing communication between us. There is a big Whatsapp group I’m on of 106 participants, where we update each other and some people say that they got offers to get their visas quickly at a hefty charge of $600,” said Chikanya.

Leshika said the SRC had plans to make sure such delays don’t occur in the future. “We intend on reminding international students to apply much earlier for their visas through heavy campaigning, their school councils, faculties, CSO’s and house committees,” said the deputy SRC president.