By Samantha Mundeta
The 90-day visa waiver is the result of a bilateral agreement concluded between home affairs departments in Zimbabwe and South Africa(1).
In terms of this arrangement, Zimbabweans who wish to enter into South Africa are issued with a permit at the South African border post which allows them to remain in the country for 90 days. If they wish to work while in the country, they are required to inform an immigration officer, who will endorse the permit.
After 90 days, there is the possibility of renewal for a further 90 days at a Home Affairs office at the cost of R425. Renewal is possible only once. Instead of renewing the permit, they have the option of leaving South Africa before the end of the 90 days, and re-entering the country later. Upon entry, they can be issued with a new 90 day permit. Zimbabweans are allowed to enter and leave South Africa as many times as they wish, receiving new visitors permits (2).
Similar practices are followed across Southern Africa and South Africa has been widely applauded in human rights circles for finally following the same process. This move is in line with the Draft SADC Protocol on the Movement of Persons which promotes the free movement of people within Southern Africa to achieve interdependence and integration of the region, with a view to building an African economic community in the future.
One of the goals of the Department of Home Affairs was, through the 90-day visa waiver, to ease the pressure on Refugee Reception offices which receive thousands of applications for asylum from Zimbabwean applicants. Many applications are from economic migrants and not refugees as defined by the Refugees Act (1998). In the words of the new Minister of Home Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma:
“International law obliges you to process an asylum seeker until they have exhausted all the avenues in South Africa… Our problem is the portion of people who say they are asylum seekers because this is the only way of legalising their stay.” (3)
The Department of Home Affairs also hoped to more effectively control movement between South Africa and Zimbabwe, and provide a disincentive for illegal entry into South Africa. However refugee service providers, including the Refugee Aid Organisation and Medicins Sans Frontiers, have observed that many Zimbabwean asylum seekers continue to circumvent the new system.
“In our research in Musina, a home affairs official we interviewed observed that as long as the 90 day permit has to be stamped into a passport or emergency travel document, legal entry into South Africa remains inaccessible to Zim asylum seekers because passports and emergency travel documents are expensive to acquire in Zimbabwe,” says Claudia Serra, Director of Refugee Aid Organisation.
She said that it is only recently that banks and employers began accepting and recognising asylum seeker permits, so people are hesitant to try and explain new documentation to them.
In the absence of a mass education campaign within the refugee community to clarify some of the misperceptions among some Zimbabwean asylum seekers about how the new system works, and clarification on what the differences between work permits and asylum seeker permits are, the 90-day permit will only achieve limited success.
A Durban-based Zimbabwean economic migrant said: “I will continue to use the asylum seeker permit because on the new permit I can only stay in the country for 90 days, and that is it for the year. Yet, I sell baskets, and would like to be able to get in and out of South Africa throughout the year”.
Serra says that of a group of 60 women she trained at the Methodist Church in Johannesburg in June this year, only one participant knew what an asylum seeker permit was. The rest were under the impression that it was a type of work permit.
The Department of Home Affairs has been silent on its promise to introduce a Special Dispensation permit for Zimbabweans, as announced on 3 April 2009 by Immigration Director General, Jackie McKay. The Special Dispensation Permit would not require applicants to have travel documents. This permit would most likely achieve government’s purpose of controlling movement between the two countries, and provide a viable alternative for the majority of Zimbabwean economic migrants who apply for refugee status in South Africa. – www.ngopulse.org
1. Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA) Newsletter, No 14: 8 April 2009
2. Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA) Newsletter, No 14: 8 April 2009
3. Minister Dlamini-Zuma, “Transcript of interaction by Minister of Home Affairs Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma with Pretoria Press Club, Pretoria” (Comments from the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs) http://www.info.gov.za/speeches/2009/09052609351001.htm [accessed 23 June 2009]
Samantha Mundeta is an Advocacy Officer at the Refugee Aid Organisation.
Three people who ran an immigration consultancy business in west London have been jailed over what is said to be one of the UK’s biggest visa scams.
Rakhi Shahi, 31, was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud, handling criminal property and immigration offences at Isleworth Crown Court.
Jatinder Kumar Sharma, 44, her husband, admitted his part in the scam in March.
Neelam Sharma, 38, also thought to be Sharma’s wife, was found guilty of handling some of the cash in the scam.
But she was cleared of conspiracy to defraud and immigration offences.
Both women had denied the charges. All three lived in Clarence Street in Southall, from where they ran their consultancy Univisas.
Shahi, an illegal immigrant, was jailed for eight years while Neelam Sharma was jailed for four years for money laundering.
Jatinder Kumar Sharma was jailed for seven years.
He admitted seeking or obtaining leave to enter or remain in the UK by deception, possession of identity document with intent, conspiracy to defraud, possessing criminal property and two counts of theft.
The court heard he has been married to Neelam Sharma for about 20 years and recently also married Shahi. Both marriages took place in India.
Sentencing Judge Richard McGregor-Johnson said the criticisms of the government agencies were “plainly well founded”.
“The checks were woefully inadequate and frequently non-existent.
“You (the defendants) saw the weaknesses in those systems and dishonestly exploited them.”
The group created thousands of bogus documents including college degree certificates, tax and wage forms, references and academic records, to secure UK visas including student visas.
The scam exploited the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, the International Graduate Scheme and other leave-to-remain visa applications.
Police suspect the company secured visas for at least 1,000 people, mostly from the Indian sub-continent, using a network of bogus colleges in London, Manchester, Bradford and Essex.
Eight Pakistani terror suspects who were arrested earlier this year during raids in Manchester and Liverpool are also thought to have used a similar scam to gain UK visas.
The UK Border Agency, the Home Office and the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) were criticised for a “shambolic” system which the fraudsters exploited.
Prosecutor Francis Sheridan told the court the evidence against the trio presented a “damning indictment” of failures of the UK’s border controls.
The court heard Home office employees failed to spot discrepancies in employment certificates and wage slips and that some students appeared to have attended two full-time courses simultaneously.
Several applicants gave the same address and in one case one person’s sex changed in the middle of the immigration process.
‘Major international conspiracy’
Last February the Metropolitan Police and the UK Border Agency raided Univisas’ office and found 90,000 documents, including false university certificates and pay slips.
Officers also found passports, 150 ink stamps and £22,500 in cash and seized 980 individual files.
The court heard the fraudsters charged hundreds and thousands of pounds as fees and were confident enough to offer a money-back guarantee to clients.
The scam garnered more than £1.5m in two years, of which police have so far been able to seize £420,000.
Jatinder Sharma was caught when he offered to get an undercover newspaper reporter a post-graduate diploma in business administration and other papers for about £4,000.
Following the verdict Tony Smith, the regional director of the UK Border Agency, said: “This was one of the largest joint investigations ever undertaken by the UK Border Agency and police.
“We believe we have cracked a major international conspiracy to facilitate the entry of illegal immigrants into the UK.
“Those behind it showed total disregard for the law, and their motives were purely financial.”
Story from BBC NEWS:
By Richard Ford|The Times
Britain’s student visa system has been the weakest link in immigration controls for years, offering a loophole for thousands of immigrants who otherwise would fail to gain entry.
Bogus colleges have enabled migrants from around the world to come to Britain by claiming that they were students on further education courses or learning English. The absence of automatic interviews for every applicant for a visa has allowed “bogus” students to escape proper scrutiny by British officials who issue the travel document overseas.
Ten of the 12 people arrested in the alleged terrorist plot are Pakistanis on student visas — raising fears in Whitehall that terrorist organisations have exploited weaknesses in the visa system. Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, said last week when announcing a tougher system for student visas: “Abuse of the student visa has been the biggest abuse of the system, the major loophole in Britain’s border controls.”
Home Office officials have estimated that up 2,000 “bogus” colleges were in existence, many of them allegedly teaching students English. More than 43,120 Pakistani citizens were given student visas between 2004 and 2007, but it was only from this year that applications were checked against an expanded set of watch lists, including police and immigration databases.
Although all applications are checked against a Home Office Warnings Index of people with poor immigration records or who are of interest to the Government, only three years ago checks on applicants could not be carried out against police databases.
Further weaknesses in the system were also exposed three years ago when officers in Pakistan said that government targets meant it was “hit and miss” whether or not they spotted forged documents. In the same year the British High Commission in Pakistan told the Home Affairs Select Committee they believed that about half the students to whom they granted visas disappeared after reaching Britain.
A Home Office spokesman said that all students applying to come to Britain were now checked against terror “watch lists”.