Foreigners get study visas in one day, says work team
Home Secretary Aaron Motsoaledi. Photo: GCIS
- Immigration fraud in South Africa is commonplace.
- A task force uncovered a series of irregularities in the issuance of permits and visas.
- Interior Minister Aaron Motsoaledi reiterated that the country was not for sale.
A survey of Home Office visa and residency applications found that foreign applicants under the age of 25 are approved for retirement and study visas within a single day.
Study visas were approved with vague, nonsensical or scant information about the “learner”.
This emerged during Home Secretary Aaron Motsoaledi’s briefing to the Home Affairs Portfolio Committee.
On Wednesday, Motsoaledi, senior department officials and a permit and visa review team presented their findings.
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The task force was created to review all permits issued since 2004 – the year the Immigration Act came into effect.
Former senior civil servant Cassius Lubisi, who chaired the task force, told MPs on average that 23% of all study visa approvals between 2014 and 2021 were for Zimbabwean nationals, which were made through a normal study visa, with the calendar year from January 2021 to December 2021 being 25%.
“Similarly, 11% of all approvals were from Nigeria and 10% from Congo. The three countries mentioned thus contribute to 44% of all study visa approvals by foreign nationals for the period. Some study visas were completed in one day.
“On the face of it this is fine, but if the processes are followed it looks suspicious and requires further investigation. ‘ The classifications could be used to facilitate the approval of bogus student visa applications.”
According to Lubisi, the review detected an increase in requests for visas and permits for retirees in 2018, but the cause is unclear.
The biggest increase is for Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Nigerian and Indian citizens.
“Seventy-nine percent of applicants applied for retirement before age 55, of which 53% were ultimately approved. In 2018, 65% of approved retirement visas were for applicants age 55 or younger.
“Applicants under 25 were allowed to retire in the RSA. Retirement visas were then replaced by other types of visas – people apply for and get retirement visas, then apply for a change of this visa to work or get married, indicating that the initial application for the retirement visa was only a ruse to enter the [country],” he said.
The government has been criticized for its decision to end the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP) at the end of the year.
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On average, 34% of all critical skills visa approvals from 2014 to June 2021 are for Zimbabwean nationals, with the calendar year January 2021 to December 2021 being 38%.
Evidence suggests a general trend for applicants to switch from general worker visa applications to essential skills visa applications, and then these switch from study visa applications to essential skills visa applications.
In 2016, a waiver notice was issued under which anyone studying a critical skill in South Africa was given the right to apply for a permanent residence permit even before qualifying.
The waiver was withdrawn by Motsoaledi in 2022.
In making its recommendations, the task force said several processes should be reviewed, including cohabitation agreements or notarized contracts that were used to represent marriages.
The panel got evidence that some of them were created by themselves.
The work team added that fraudulent applications (with fraudulent documents) should be rejected outright.
For someone to receive a retirement visa in South Africa, they had to prove a certain stream of income, he recommended.
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The task force wants the ministry to conduct a detailed forensic investigation.
“Some visas will have to be revoked, some people may have to be deported, and criminal charges may have to be taken. This will also include internal disciplinary action,” Lubisi said.
He added that the review board recommended commissioning an independent multi-disciplinary task force consisting of lawyers, forensic investigators, specialist analysts and ICT systems experts to thoroughly investigate all anomalies, fraudulent claims, corrupt activities, systemic irregularities and maladministration identified.
Lubisi said it would help make “appropriate recommendations” for criminal prosecution, disciplinary action, system removal, system improvements, visa recalls and tracing of offending foreign nationals for deportation.
Motsoaledi reiterated that the country is not for sale and corrupt officials will be rooted out.
The committee also heard about the dismissal of six officials and the disciplinary proceedings against four others.