The White Paper takes a pan-African stance, which seeks to move away from the colonial legacies of previous migration policies. The Paper references the AU Agenda 2063, which calls for the abolishment of visa requirements for all African citizens. The White Paper aims for visa-free travel for African citizens (i.e., the ability to enter South Africa for ninety days upon arrival at South Africa’s borders). This would, however, only work if there are return agreements and security measures in place. ‘Trusted travelers’ from Africa will be able to access long-term, multiple-entry visas. The White Paper plans for a fully automated visa application system (for all migrants), whereby applications are made in countries of origin, and are subject to advanced security checks using improved data systems.
Southern African Development Community Region
The Southern African Development Community (SADC)2 has aimed to work towards the free movement of people, goods and capital through various non-binding protocols. In reality, most of the SADC member states have not amended their policies in line with these protocols – and the White Paper stresses that, as the region’s largest economy, South Africa’s realization of this goal is difficult. The White Paper finds that 88% of recent deportations3 from South Africa were to Mozambique, Zimbabwe or Lesotho. With this in mind, the White Paper proposes the implementation of the following, which would include foreigners already living in South Africa:
Implementing more ‘Special Dispensation’ Permits for certain SADC nationals
Special Dispensation Permits have already been issued to certain groups of nationals in South Africa. These are temporary permits that allow certain work/study rights, but offer no pathway to permanent residency. These special permits are implemented through bilateral agreements between South Africa and another country. For example, the Zimbabwean special permit, which was first issued in 2014, offered temporary documentation to the mass influx of Zimbabweans during the economic crash. This permit has been extended three times (the current permits expire in 2021). Other special dispensation permits have been issued to Lesotho nationals and Angolan nationals.
New visa options for SADC nationals
These options would include a special work visa, a trader visa and Small Medium Enterprise Visa. These visas would be dependent on bilateral agreements with South Africa and sending countries, and would be subject to requirements, such as business registration, SARS registration and so on. These visas would not link into permanent residency.
In our submissions, we welcomed and celebrated these regularization projects, and the creation of a visa scheme for SADC citizens to legally enter, depart, and conduct employment and business in South Africa. We also agree with the White Paper that this will lift huge numbers out of the asylum system, providing relief and allow the asylum system to function (which means the huge changes planned to the asylum system would not be needed).
However, we also note some concerns on the SADC permit plans. Namely,
- The existing special dispensation permits have been racked with problems of delays, incorrect permits and administrative blocks. To be most effective, we would like to see future dispensations better planned, organized and administered.
- Existing special dispensation permits are subject to strict timelines, excluding huge swathes of people. We hope that future SADC visas will not be subject to such strict timelines, allowing nationals to apply at different times.
Although a step in the right direction, these ‘special’ permits are selective in who can apply, and when – resulting in a relatively small number of foreigners being documented rather than allowing for fuller SADC migration. It is not clear how low-skilled migrants could benefit from these permits, and risks allowing only ‘designer migrants’ to apply, resulting in brain-drains in sending countries. In the long term, we would support the development of an alternative migration management regime that would lessen the need for special dispensations.