New Home Affairs Minister’s must-do list for first weeks in office

July 09, 2024

De Saude Darbandi

Newly appointed Home Affairs Minister Leon Schreiber. Image: via X

The minister is ‘uniquely placed to deliver some quick wins for the economy’.

By Ciaran Ryan

New Home Affairs Minister Leon Schreiber has his work cut out for him. He inherits a ministry drowning in backlogs, corruption, and policy uncertainty.

His predecessor, Aaron Motsoaledi, has been shunted back to the Ministry of Health, from which he came. Home Affairs is an unholy mess.

How many undocumented immigrants are there in SA?

We don’t know, nor does the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). Anywhere between five and 13 million, according to a Home Affairs white paper on citizenship, immigration and refugee protection published in 2023 and updated in April 2024.

There’s similar uncertainty about the number of refugees, which appears vastly overstated in the white paper.

Schreiber has a golden opportunity to address some of the easy fixes and deliver a quick boost to the economy, setting the tone for the rest of the cabinet.

Where to start: Visas

“The first thing I would urge him to do is extend the visa waiver, which expired at the end of June [2024],” says Stefanie de Saude-Darbandi, an immigration and citizenship law specialist at DSD Attorneys.

The blanket waiver was made necessary because of application backlogs in the DHA. Those who overstay their visas risk being declared ‘undesirable’ in SA for one to five years.

The waiver extension should apply equally to those applying for long-term visas and so-called ‘swallows’, seasonal visitors who often stay for six months at a time and bring billions of rands into the country.

“The most pressing issue for the new minister is the blanket waiver enabling long-term visa and waiver applicants to remain in South Africa and exit the country without being banned, which expired at the end of June,” says De Saude-Darbandi.

“As of now, there has been no update on this very important matter. However, with Minister Schreiber at the helm, we are hopeful that clarity and direction will soon follow.

“His track record suggests that he will address these pressing concerns with urgency and diligence.”

Cutting queues

Long queues at Home Affairs offices make it look overwhelmed and inefficient.

This could be alleviated through faster processing of refugee applications, identifying genuine cases and eliminating illegal ones, thereby reducing the need for repeat visits.

There’s ample scope to simplify the visa application process.

“If someone from a visa-restricted country already has a US or EU visa, they’ve already been vetted. The department should issue visas to these individuals without requiring extensive additional documentation,” says De Saude-Darbandi.

“Additionally, the five-step quality assurance process for permanent residence applications seems overcomplicated. Reducing it to one or two steps would make things much smoother.”


Zimbabweans and immigrants from other countries are also hoping for a sympathetic ear from the new minister. Initially welcomed into SA in the immediate post-apartheid era, Zimbabweans feel abandoned and betrayed by the xenophobia that was stoked in SA in recent years.

This became clear during the multiple court cases heard last year over the validity of Motsoaledi’s decision to terminate the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) system – which was set aside by the courts. These permits allow Zimbabweans to live and work in SA.

Schreiber will likely soon have to decide whether ZEP holders should be entitled to apply for permanent residence. A court case to decide this will likely be heard later this year or next.

Advocate Simba Chitando, who represents thousands of ZEP holders in SA, says there is a sense of optimism over the new Home Affairs minister.

“Nobody believes that anyone could be worse than Dr Motsoaledi, who spent his tenure unsuccessfully defending his decisions in court and wasting billions of rands of taxpayers’ money,” says Chitando.

“Time will tell if the new minister of home affairs will apply the law, and ignore rhetoric from right-wing hate groups oblivious to the fact that South Africa needs a good relationship with its neighbours if it has any hope of growing the economy and create sustainable jobs.”

Tackling the criminal syndicates

The Home Affairs white paper published earlier this year made repeated references to the prevalence of fraud and exploitation in the immigration system, aided by criminal syndicates. Motsoaledi’s prescript was to overhaul outdated legislation when the more urgent problem lay within his own department and its corrupt elements.

Schreiber will have to wrestle this tiger sooner or later.

Home Affairs is a money machine, with illegal immigrants (even those without passports) able to move freely into and out of the country provided they can afford the bribes.

It’s a side hustle for immigration officials that will not easily be foreclosed.

De Saude-Darbandi says she welcomes the appointment of the new Home Affairs minister, who is uniquely placed to deliver some quick wins for the SA economy through:

  • Extending the blanket waiver while those applying for longer and shorter-term visas await the outcome of their applications to avoid being declared undesirable in SA;
  • Clarification on the points system for working visas and adapting visitor visas for remote working;
  • Addressing systemic challenges such as wrongful rejections, inconsistent service standards and ensuring all visa applicants are treated equally and fairly;
  • The importance of timely and lawful outcomes in court cases involving Home Affairs (DSD Attorneys has launched more than 150 court cases against Home Affairs over the previous 18 months). Home Affairs is notorious for involving itself in long legal battles, only to concede after a year or two. The strategy appears to be to litigate, even when cases are weak, rather than find a resolution. The decision to appeal the ZEP case (which it lost) all the way to the Constitutional Court was unnecessary and wasteful; and
  • The establishment of the long-overdue Immigration Advisory Board, immigration courts and separate appeal boards, as recommended in the white paper, to improve transparency and accountability.

“Beyond regulatory adjustments, we must address systemic issues within Home Affairs that have perpetuated injustice and deterred potential investors and skilled immigrants. The prevalence of wrongful rejections, which send many needed individuals and families in South Africa back into the system through an appeal process that either takes years to resolve or requires litigation to correct, undermines our credibility as a welcoming nation,” says De Saude-Darbandi.

“Additionally, inconsistent service standards among Home Affairs officials abroad further exacerbate these challenges. Minister Schreiber’s commitment to accountability and efficiency presents an opportunity to overhaul these practices, ensuring fairness and respect for all applicants.”

Schreiber and the Democratic Alliance are unburdened by the uglier xenophobic rhetoric that some parties used to whip up populist support in the recent elections.

He is uniquely placed to deliver some quick economic benefits to the country and has already indicated his intention to improve work visa processes. Longer-term, he will have to wade into the Home Affairs weeds and root out the criminals who have turned it into a cash machine.