South Africa: COVID-19 Concessions to Address Immigration issues

Due to the escalating impact of COVID-19 and the growing restrictions on travel, employers and their workforce are facing travel restrictions globally. The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has issued guidance on how applications will be handled during the crisis. These measures will remain in effect until 31 July 2020. The concessions apply to those whose visas have expired or will be expiring from 15 February 2020, unless a person is able to provide proof that they have submitted an extension application prior to 15 February 2020 and is awaiting the outcome.

Key points to note

Expiry of visa

  • Visas expiring before or during lockdown: persons will not be arrested or detained for holding an expired visa
  • Temporary residence visa expiring from mid-February 2020: persons that did not renew their visas before the lockdown began will not be declared illegal or prohibited persons
  • Expired visa but will return to home country once lockdown ends: persons with expired visas, who do not wish to extend and want to return to their home countries will not be declared undesirable upon departure

Visa application and adjudication

  • The DHA will not receive or adjudicate applications for visas and for permanent residence permits during the lockdown.
  • Foreign Nationals:
      • Persons whose visas have expired after 15 February 2020 may re-apply for the respective visa exemptions while in South Africa, immediately after the lockdown has ended. These persons will not be required to apply for authorisation to remain in South Africa (Good Cause/ Form 20)
      • Persons that had appointments scheduled for during the lockdown need to reschedule their appointments to available dates after the lockdown has ended. The VFS calendar is not showing available appointment dates for April, which means that at this stage, persons cannot book appointments for 30 April or onwards. We are of the understanding that extension applications should be allowed as of 30 April, should the lockdown in fact end on this date.

Work, Study and Business

People whose visas expired during the lockdown and have submitted their extension applications prior to the lockdown beginning and are awaiting the outcome of their application, will be allowed to work, study or conduct business once the lockdown ends while awaiting the outcome on their application.

Visas for high risk countries

As per the directions issued by the DHA in terms of the Disaster Management Act, 2002, nationals of high risk countries who were outside of South Africa on 15 March 2020 and were issued a visa, these visas were revoked and remain revoked. 

Departure of foreign nationals during lockdown

All foreign nationals in South Africa are not allowed to depart the country, except for cases relating to expatriation initiated by another state. 

Lesotho exemption permit

The Lesotho Special Permits which expired on 31 December 2019 remain valid until 15 June 2020. No new applications will be taken. Holders of the Lesotho Special Permit have up to 15 June 2020 to submit extension applications.

Expiry of asylum seeker permits

Asylum seekers whose visas expired from 16 March 2020 until the end of lockdown have 30 calendar days from this date to legalise their visas. If they do not legalise their visas they can be penalised or arrested.

Alisha Yesmariam is an Immigration Paralegal, and Johan Botes is a Partner and Head of the Employment Practice at Baker McKenzie Johannesburg.

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