With the NDP, as proposed, the government (or at least Manuel’s office) begins at last to come to terms with what informed immigration policies can do for the country’s economic malaise. There is just one problem here – and that is Home Affairs itself.
Observers noted sadly that just as Pravin Gordhan praised his colleague at Home Affairs in his mini Budget Speech, on the issue of permits for foreign nationals, Home Affairs was sinking very quickly back into the shambles it was in just a few months ago – whether or not its books now balanced.
In response to the public outcry about the last backlog (and litigation), the Department brought in temporary staff to help clear the outstanding applications; although, despite assurances to the contrary by the Department, there are still people out there who have been waiting for their permits or appeals since 2010 or worse!
But having cleared the 2010 / 2011 backlog, as much as they could, it appears that the Department then got rid of that staff. Then it said it was bringing soldiers in. But these soldiers, reportedly, are being sent everywhere but where they are needed now – at Head Office. And the backlog in permit applications accumulates once again.
Rumours abound again of there already being a backlog of 30 000 permit applications, appeals (some of the decisions by the relief staff were real shockers!) and other representations. Many of these people waiting include Zimbabweans who are still waiting for their amnesty-based work permit applications to come through too.
Whilst the turnaround time on ID books, birth certificates and passports has improved considerably, and whilst these developments do improve the government’s profile amongst South African voters, it does little or nothing to help grow the economy and create jobs (and you cannot buy food with an ID book). Issuing permits for skilled immigrants and entrepreneurs working, does however.
The NDP advises that in 2012, one innovation to hit the streets to improve skills development in SA will be “a more open approach to skilled immigration.”
Sadly, if you apply for a temporary permit from inside the country, expat employees are now back to waiting for three to four months or worse, for outcomes. Not a promising start to a more open approach.
The current delays are not going to help anyone grow any business. If anything it may kill some businesses and job-creating initiatives.
Part of the Department’s ‘ innovative response’ in 2012 will be that if you come in here with your family to work on a three-month permit and the company decides that it needs you to stay on and so you plan to apply for your transfer whilst here, Home Affairs, in a fit of innovation, experimentation, cooperation with the private sector to grow jobs and deliver skills and service delivery, will now tell you to take yourself and your family back where you came from and to apply for the correct permit there. And don’t come back without it! And what is the company supposed to do without you in the meantime?!
But let’s hope that the Department will at least improve the training of their staff – or DIRCO’s staff – in the Embassies and Consulates. Because let’s face it, if you have ever had to deal with consular staff at one of our Embassies, some of the staff are little less than shocking and are modestly more than a one-person “blue-light bureaucrat” where the requirements of the law, public service standards and the spirit of Ubuntu are, frankly, alien concepts. And in doing so, these people let down the good staff , the NPD and the country.
And as for the more “open approach” – if this is a reference to the pending changes to the Immigration Act, the fact is that the issue of a permit for having skills, will be subject to falling into one or other determination by the Minister of Home Affairs. The fact is that the Minister cannot or will not work with the private sector; she appears not to see the private sector as clients, as partners.
The fact too is that the Minister, with the best will in the world, cannot react promptly to the needs of the South African economy as it stays in tune with the world’s economy. The lists of scarce skills in the past have been notable for their lack of consultation with real players – even within Government - and the very omissions from these lists.
Perhaps Home Affairs’ needs a turnaround strategy if it is to deliver its part in the NDP! Wait, its already had three turnaround projects at a cost of several billion Rands. The NPC is going to have to take a long hard look at Home Affairs.