|Admitted as an attorney in 1985 Chris Watters practices exclusively in the field of immigration law. Chris is the Vice-Chairperson of the Immigration Law Committees of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces and the Law Society of South Africa. He is a member of the SA Law Reform Commission's project team on immigration law and is a former member of the Immigration Advisory Board. He is a member of the US-based Association of Business Immigration Lawyers [www.abil.com]. Chris Watters Attorneys [firstname.lastname@example.org] assists in all aspects of temporary and permanent residence permit applications, immigration enforcement ‘disputes' and refugee law matters.|
The response of the Department of Home Affairs to the public input to the Immigration Amendment Bill, 2010, may lead some to believe that there are officials at Home Affairs who have their heads stuck so deep in the sand, they are in danger of needing a mineral exploration licence.
It is bad enough that the Immigration Amendment Bill 2010 appears intent on setting up what could in effect become barriers to block refugees from seeking protection in South Africa. But now elements within the Department seem to have completely lost the plot and are operating from the premise that people with skills and offshore companies are queuing up for the honour of moving to or investing in South Africa.
No-one is decrying South Africa’s qualities or its people. But we are not the only stunning and exciting destination on the planet and therein lies the rub. We are competing for very scarce resources – skills and sustainable investment. When it comes to securing long term offshore investment, we only have to talk to the Department of Trade and Industry to get a sense of of how much time, money and ‘schmoozing’ goes into attracting skills and foreign investment that creates sustainable jobs.
And what is the response of elements within Home Affairs to these challenges? Based on the responses at Parliament, some are saying “Lets test the resolve of these investors, do they really deserve to enter the SA economy?”
Absurd? Overstated? Why then is the Department so apparently hell bent on requiring company executives and persons who run or who are key to SMMEs, to get into queues outside Home Affairs at 5.00am or worse in order to get a number to be allowed into the building with their permit application papers. This is the state of affairs at the Department’s regional offices at Johannesburg, Germiston and Pretoria! And they will have to queue for the day in various queues to submit their paperwork and pay the fees. And the process has to be repeated when there is eventually an outcome. And to be blunt, we are not talking just about company executives. Everyone has to queue – it does not matter if you are a three year old or thirteen years old, male or female; or whether, for that matter you are 83 years old and bedridden! And of course you will be standing outside – summer or winter, rain or shine – with thousands of Rands in your pocket to be paid in cash for the Department fee and possibly even a repatriation deposit, and the latter can run into tens of thousands of Rands.
On the basis of this heartwarming welcome, centres like Kabul and Baghdad must be confident of being able to compete for the same investment and skills!
Why is it that players like SARTS, DTI and Treasury can react creatively and flexibly to dynamics in the global market place in order to secure investment but Home Affairs sometimes reacts with the speed of a bed-ridden senior citizen (and I apologise to our seniors) and acts as if we are working in a command-driven economy sheltered from the storms of the global village – especially when it comes to managing the temporary permit regime.
This country badly needs a properly regulated but yet flexible temporary permit regime. This is not what the Bill is going to give us. It seeks instead to revisit policies and practices abandoned with the 1991 Aliens Control Act that was designed in the 1980s.
Recreating “Fortress South Africa’ does not create jobs or build a bigger revenue ‘pie.’ If it does nothing else, this threatened isolationism will fuel xenophobia – witness the submission to the Portfolio Committee by an immigration agent, ironically enough, that foreigners should not be allowed to apply for citizenship here! And what was the Department’s response? Instead of a forthright “no”, it advises that the matter would have to be discussed at Cabinet as this would be a “major shift in policy” – unlike anything else in this Bill.
The South African economy demands creativity at this time. The recession and structural challenges of the economy require thoughtful and innovative leadership from the Department of Home Affairs working hand in glove with other Departments - not more bumbling, mumbling and fumbling as with the shambles that is the temporary permit adjudication process.
Written by Chris Watters