Home Affairs battles to cope
VFS was a necessary intervention
IN DECEMBER, the Department of Home Affairs extended its contract with Visa Facilitation Services (VFS) for a further 24 months, effective January 1.
The parliamentary committee on home affairs criticised the department for failing to follow its recommendations against extending VFS’s contract and during a March 12 meeting called on Home Affairs Minister Siyabonga Cwele to review it.
The committee believes the department deliberately created a monopolised visa process.
To understand the role of foreign-owned VFS within South Africa’s immigration landscape, it is instructive to recall the reasons the company was contracted to process visa and permit applications.
In May 2010, by decree of the then-interim minister of home affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, all decisions on immigration applications within South Africa were centralised at a securitised adjudication hub at the department’s head office in Pretoria.
Previously, all visa applications had been processed at regional and district offices.
The change was made out of sheer necessity. Home Affairs had become beset by corruption which undermined the integrity of the bureaucratic determination process.
Syndicates from Nigeria, Pakistan and China were working directly out of certain regional and district offices.
Officials issued visas that had not gone through compliant processes, until the market was flooded. This years-old system of patronage eroded adjudication systems, leaving South Africa’s population register in tatters.
Home Affairs offices in locations such as Springs and Germiston were infested with rogue officials and became unsalvageable.
Having served as foreign affairs minister, Dlamini Zuma was sensitised to the corruption that had eroded international confidence in South Africa’s national documents.
These passports had been found in the possession of dead al-Shabaab terrorists in Somalia, in shoes exported to Cameroon, in the possession of Pakistani travellers and across the globe.
This was illustrative of a state of affairs that had spread internationally.
After exerting ongoing pressure on the South African government to have the issuance of passport documents securitised, the British government imposed strict visa requirements on South African passport holders on July 1, 2009.
The 2010 Fifa World Cup was approaching, putting South Africa in the international spotlight. Dlamini Zuma had to act.
All visa and permit applications would be adjudicated at the head office, removing chances for improper decision-making at district and regional offices.
Truckloads of applications began arriving at head office from across South Africa. Consequently, between 60% and 70% of applications submitted in South Africa from early 2010 until early 2011 simply disappeared.
Unprecedented litigation commenced, forcing the department to locate missing applications.
Thousands of foreigners were stranded without visas, creating chaos in the expatriate community and the corporate environment. Litigation demonstrated that corruption within the department could be exorcised only by sacrificing bureaucratic efficiency.
The delivery supply chain from front counters to head office had been obliterated.
Meanwhile, VFS had been managing visa and permit application delivery in pilot schemes at South African missions abroad, after entering into a contract with Home Affairs on October 27, 2010. By December 2013, the department’s near paralysis forced it to contract VFS to handle applications made in South Africa.
Without VFS, Home Affairs would have collapsed under the weight of its inability to manage its front counters and the conveyance of applications to head office for adjudication. It sought a service provider out of necessity.
But VFS has created an unwarranted moat, making it is near impossible for members of the public to communicate directly with Home Affairs.
VFS has profited by charging a service fee of R1 350 to accept and deliver administrative appeals.
This is an unlawful non-regulated fee that foreigners are obliged to pay, even to gain access to administrative justice. It infringes on the public’s right to administrative justice.
For those with limited financial resources, it keeps justice beyond reach. In effect, this fee is the price foreigners have to pay for a measure of government inefficiency.