by Doreen Zimbizi, Kudzai Mazvarirwofa and Roxanne Joseph.
Newly issued visa regulations from the South African Department of Home Affairs have led to frustration and anger among foreigners, including Witsies, living in the country.
The regulations, issued in June this year, states that any foreign person living in South Africa is not allowed to change the state of their permit here but must do so at the “mission abroad,” i.e. the South African embassy in that person’s home country.
In order to travel back for this permit status changes, the existing permit must have at least 30 days on it. Anyone who overstays on a permit will be declared an ‘undesirable’ and will be blacklisted.
Additionally, while students could previously travel back to their home countries using the proof of application for a study permit, the new regulations sates that anyone who attempts to leave the South African border with this proof, will be in contravention of the act and charged with a spot fine and or blacklisted.
At the end of June, Wits University facilitated a discussion on the new immigration regulations and how they affect the student community. Initiated by the Department of Home Affairs, the forum was attended by representatives from 16 of South Africa’s 23 universities.
Gita Patel, manager of the Wits International Student Office, said the under the new regulations existing students would now renew their permits online while new students will be required to apply in their home countries. A department of Home Affairs official, who refused to be named, said the department is currently facing a backlog in the issuing of permits and as a result students are forced to return to their home countries, sometimes regularly, in order to comply with the regulations.
Babongile Pswarai, a returning master’s student at Wits says she got her study permit for her honour’s degree at UCT (University of Cape Town). After the permit had already expired she had return to Zimbabwe to re-apply before she became an illegal resident. She experienced with the difficulties with the embassy while there.
“The embassy in Zim[babwe] was awful. It’s like the people there don’t even know themselves what they are doing. Either that, or they just don’t want to work.”
Wits University enrols about 2 500 foreign students every year and Patel said the number of outstanding permits fluctuated. She hoped the new system would streamline the process. Patel advised students to plan ahead by applying at least 60 days in advance and to check the progress of their online applications regularly. The process normally takes six to eight weeks.