Mi­grant bungling by home af­fairs of­fi­cials hampers job creation

Business Day - - OPINION - Ste­fanie de Saude-Dar­bandi De Saude-Dar­bandi is founder and direc­tor of De Saude At­tor­neys.

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 Au­gust 23, 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.

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