With the General Election approaching, there are indications that Ms Naledi Pandor might not continue as the Minister of Home Affairs in the new cabinet. I am however of the opinion that it would be in the best interest of the Department as well as its customers for her to continue. However, although most people would be more than happy for her to retain her portfolio, she might long for another ministry.
Since Ms Naledi Pandor took charge of the department a number of issues have improved when compared to her predecessor.
Passports are now issued within one week, the roll out of the smart ID cards is gaining momentum, capacity constraints are being addressed and new immigration officials are being trained. The Immigration Regulations for the Immigration Amendment Act 2011 that have to date been "missing" were published at the beginning of February for public comment and it can therefore be expected that they will become effective before the general elections.
At the time of writing this article the final version of the Immigration Regulations were not yet published, but based on previous versions of the regulations, the following major changes can be expected. Holders of the intra-company transfer (ICT) work permit have always complained that the two year validity period of the permit is extremely short. It is expected that the duration will be extended. Another good move by the Department of Home Affairs is that the rules governing the immigration of researchers and creative artists have been eased. This means it will be easier for both researchers and creative artists to gain access into South Africa and conduct their 'business'. There has also been a significant change in the general attitude of supervisors in particular. Most are more responsive and make an effort to answer email enquiries. However, although improved, there is still a massive opportunity to improve even further.
On the negative side, the enactment of the Immigration Amendment Act will abolish the Immigration Practitioner therefore opening up the industry to unregistered and untrained advisers. However, there are intentions to move towards creating a self-regulatory body.
Additionally, we will most likely see a private company acting as the new front office of the Department in the future accepting immigration applications and ensuring that they are captured onto the new IT System. The tender for this has already been granted. Applications will however still be processed in Pretoria. Therefore, one has to wait and see whether the processing times and the quality of processing will actually improve. There are also serious intentions to decrease the paper based work and move towards a paper free application process in the future.
The massive backlog in the Permanent Residence department which Ms Pandor inherited has largely been addressed and diminished, but is still far from being resolved. As a consequence of addressing the backlog in the Permanent Residence section, however, the processing times for temporary residence are unacceptably long now sitting at an average of two to three months.
So, overall it is probably fair to say that Ms Naledi Pandor has had a positive impact on the Department, but it remains to be seen whether her successor will continue with the positive changes she started.
Andreas Krensel is the owner and managing director of IBN Consulting in Cape Town (www.ibncapetown.com). He is a qualified German attorney with an LLM from UCT and has been assisting foreign investors in South Africa for the past ten years.