Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says the Department of Home Affairs needs a staff contingency of 60% to operate optimally - but, currently, it falls short of this target, despite pleas to the National Treasury.
Motsoaledi appeared before Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs on Tuesday, during which his department gave an update of backlogs with regard to visas and permits.
MPs pressed the minister on these backlogs, and, in response, he said the department needed more money and staff.
He said the department had previously operated at 39% of staff. After a business case was made to the National Treasury, 700 staff members increased the percentage to 42%.
The minister said he pleaded with President Cyril Ramaphosa to add more funds and staff to improve the department's operations.
"We are running a department with a staff complement of 39% only - and, after reporting the business case, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana moved us from 39% to at least 42%. We have made a presentation and a plea to the president that we will be very happy if the staffing at the Department of Home Affairs can be 60%. We won't reach where we have to, but it will get us somewhere," said Motsoaledi.
The minister said most of the department's budget included the issuing of identity documents, birth certificates and passports for South Africans.
He said because the finances of the department focused on serving internal matters, issues like migration suffered.
"We have no other way of solving the migration issue unless we get more money. As we deal with backlogs and issues, we need to look at the global picture," he said.
Motsoaledi said another issue that added to the burden of visa backlogs was "forum shopping" by applicants.
South Africa, unlike other countries, offers about 17 different types of visa applications, including relative and spousal visas.
Motsoaledi said his department often had to deal with the same individuals who applied for different visas to gain entrance or to stay in the country.
"When you ask us why we have so many backlogs, you have to consider the issue of forum shopping. You are dealing with the same person from one country 10 times or more because of forum shopping. They try one type of visa and, if they are unsuccessful, they try another. So, we keep dealing with the same person, and there is no way there will be no build-up of backlogs. We might have to revisit the legislation and why it allows this type of thing," he said.
"We have 17 types of visas, and we are being attacked on serious backlogs on visas, and people say this threatens the economy."
On the issue of visas, the committee was given a breakdown of visa application backlogs, which include various types of categories, and it amounts to 74 000.
The highest backlog in applications - 35 000 - is visas of people who have spouses in South Africa. They want to come and live in the country and seek employment as well.
The minister said the backlog in this section was because the awarding of the visa had to be co-approved by the Department of Employment and Labour. The labour department needs to ensure that no South African is available to do the job, and then approve the application.
Motsoaledi said this process resulted in the procedure being backlogged because general work visas can only be issued once the labour section is approved.