The Democratic Alliance (DA) notes with concern the proposed Immigration Amendment Bill, which could have a far-reaching and negative impact on the country. Its key effect will be to scare off foreign investment, chase away highly skilled international labour and narrow our options as we engage with the global community. But while the Bill’s restrictive intent is clear, its mechanisms for achieving its aims are not: essentially, the Minister is granted unbridled discretion to interpret and implement the law as she sees fit, but without the proper regulations to guide her actions. This makes it impossible for Parliament to know what it is agreeing to, since so much is left unspecified. As we debate the bill in the portfolio committee, I will press for more stringent definitions to be written into the bill that clarify the limits of ministerial power and I will call for the alteration of passages that harm South Africa’s economic competitiveness.
In brief, the Immigration Amendment Bill seeks to regulate foreigners’ entry into the country (as tourists, workers, investors, etc), international corporate investment, passenger flight security and immigration officials’ behaviour. These issues are clearly important, and we do have laws that already regulate them, but the new bill seeks to narrow the scope by which we engage with the world. These are the key problems of the Bill:
• The Immigration Advisory Board will be appointed almost entirely at the discretion of the Minister. She will thus no longer be obliged to consult with any government departments prior to promulgating regulations or developing policy.
• Visitors will not be able to change the status and conditions of their permits (for instance, from a study permit to a work permit) while in the country, except under “exceptional circumstances.” This is unnecessary, inconvenient and costly.
• Business permits will only be issued in respect of businesses prescribed to be “in the national interest”. What this means, exactly, is unclear; it may risk stifling foreign direct investment.
• Minors will be required to have their own passports to enter or exit South Africa, though many countries from which we recruit highly skilled workers do not issue such separate passports for children who must travel under a parent’s passport.
There are other concerns as well, such as the call for increased surveillance of domestic flight passengers in a way which may be unconstitutional, its demand that applicants for visas and temporary residence permits must apply in person (rather than allowing immigration practitioners to deal with the lengthy Home Affairs queues), and its imposition of hefty sentences for non-compliance (five years’ imprisonment for contravention of the Act). These are matters that will require close scrutiny in committee.
Concerned parties have warned the portfolio committee that this Bill should not be drafted in the absence of a comprehensive migration policy, that certain sections appear unconstitutional and that it will negatively affect small business growth as well as the country’s access to scarce skills and foreign direct investment. Certainly this is not the outcome South Africa desires. We want to increase our pool of skills and to maximize opportunities for economic growth. A reasonable immigration policy would take measured means to balance our need for attracting talent and capital with maintaining national security and competitiveness. It would also spell out the regulations in clear detail, leaving as little possible to the discretion of the Minister, who should not be weighing in on the day-to-day matters of immigration.
The DA is pleased to note that the portfolio committee has accepted our request to have the Minister address us on this issue. We hope that by the time she meets with us, we will have altered the Bill in a way that allows us to have a progressive, humanistic migration policy that will benefit our country.