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Migrant bungling by home affairs officials hampers job creation

October 25, 2017


After two successive quarters of decline, the South African economy spluttered back to life in the second quarter with 2.5% GDP growth quarter on quarter.

However, the country’s inability to stimulate job creation is putting it on a collision course with a sustained recessionary period, which spells disaster.

The unemployment rate is at a 14-year high. A staggering 9.3-million people who wanted work were unable to find it in the first quarter. The National Development Plan’s ambition to reduce unemployment to 14% by 2020 is battling against a public sector partly paralysed through corruption, and a private sector nervously assessing the increasingly tense socioeconomic situation. Job creation is at a standstill.

Yet the Department of Home Affairs is hampering highly skilled international migrants’ ability to create new businesses that can drive job creation and economic growth. Migrants from outside the UK and EU make up 25% of London’s workforce and contribute £83bn, more than a third of the South African economy a year to the city’s economy. A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that “skilled immigrants contribute to boosting research and innovation, as well as technological progress”.

In a case representing more than 473 applicants for visa, permit and citizenship applications heard on August23, the department performed extraordinary legal and bureaucratic acrobatics to obfuscate, delay, impede and frustrate our efforts to bring relief to the applicants’ efforts to continue to live, work and study lawfully in SA.

These are people who have lived and worked in the country for years, have husbands and wives, children and careers, people who contribute economically and socially to the prosperity of the country. Due to the department’s arrogance and dismissive attitude, they are now unable to open bank accounts, travel or rent property. They face the constant risk of deportation or criminal records.

The Department of Home Affairs is duty-bound under administrative law to process overdue applications within a reasonable time. However, applications are being unduly delayed, some for more than four years. The human and economic cost of this failure in constitutional duty is immense. In a similar case in 2012 concerning the delay in processing permanent residence applications of 105 applicants, Acting Judge Judith Cloete found that the department had “dealt with the applications… in a manner which can only be described as ‘administrative bungling’” and that “the lives of 105 foreigners… hang in the balance until the respondents get their house in order”.

By failing to conduct its affairs in accordance with the constitutional values of accountability, responsiveness and openness, the department is causing a great deal of prejudice to countless individuals across SA. The only recourse left to these people is to approach the courts, which is an expensive and lengthy process many can ill afford.

In its white paper on international migration, the department states that the current policy on international migration “does not enable SA to adequately embrace global opportunities” and that it is “based on an approach that is largely static and limited to compliance rather than to managing international migration strategically to achieve national goals”.

The Department of Home Affairs is failing to live up to its own ambitions for international migrants to become key drivers of SA’s success and global competitiveness. Its failure to award permanent residence and critical-skills visas is costing SA dearly.

Department officials in SA and at foreign missions refuse to recognise powers of attorney and the right of foreigners to effective legal representation.

This latest development goes beyond bureaucratic and procedural issues plaguing the department. By infringing on these applicants’ common law right to appoint attorneys as their legal representatives, the department has enabled the worst of its officials to abuse their powers and prey on people who lack understanding of SA’s legal system.

The department should reconsider its approach to applications made in SA and abroad, and start managing the influx of highly skilled workers more efficiently and strategically for the benefit of SA.

• De Saude-Darbandi is founder and director of De Saude Attorneys.

De Saude-Darbandi Attorneys | Cape Town, South Africa

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