Quote: 'Although there is a place for agents... few can afford the prohibitive cost of a reputable agent whilst the risk of encountering an incompetent one is too high..."
In 2009, amidst skepticism from family and friends, I undertook to submit my Work Permit application to the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) myself. A decision birthed by a quote of R 10, 000 (excl of costs) to submit through an agent, my then ailing bank balance, and numerous horror stories - starring agents - related by friends or 'friends of friends'. My thinking at the time was that the inefficiencies and incompetence of the DHA were grossly exaggerated.
To my delight, my gamble paid off. Having gathered the requisite documentation, I trepidatiously proceeded to the dragons den that is the Harrison Street DHA office. Save for the broken lift and having to contend with the six flights of stairs, the experience was painless. All 7 counters were manned which expedited the process and I was done in about 2 hours. Thirty (30) days later - to the day, my permit was ready.
Fast forward three years and in 2012, I found myself in need of a new permit. With my recuperating bank balance I chose to 'splurge' on an agent - a decision I quickly rescinded when quoted R 15, 000 and R 20, 000 respectively by agents clearly working off a significantly different inflation rate from my employer. My previous positive experience still fresh in my mind, a helpful employer, and several accounts of an improving DHA discouraging the use of agents, I figured it could only be easier this time.
Again, putting together the application was straightforward. On advice from a former DHA employee, I made my way to Pretoria where I was informed that applications for a Johannesburg based employer are not accepted in Pretoria. I requested a review of my application to ensure compliance and confirmed that other than one document (of which no mention is made in the application forms) my application was 'perfect'.
Armed with my amended 'perfect' application, I proceeded to the Harrison street office where I was oriented into a new system – all applicants of Temporary Residence Permits need a number to be served. I joined the long, largely unattended queue outside the DHA, got to the 6th Floor an hour later and on producing my 'pass' gained access to the empty submission area.
This time, only one official was accepting applications at a rate that felt like an eternity per person. As I sat in the queue - geared up for a long wait - I noticed that agents seemed to have an unspoken 'fast track' queue. Three hours later, I was next in line when the official serving us 'plebs' left, promising:
"My colleague will help you in 5 minutes, ne"
Half an hour later the elusive colleague appeared and firmly declared my application to be incomplete. The DHA now requires both the SAQA certificate and the academic documents that were initially submitted for evaluation. She then informed me (with a straight face) that only salary benchmarks from Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst and Young or the Department of Labour are acceptable, and proceeded to produce the 'prevailing list of requirements' sending me on my way dumbfounded and perplexed.
The following day, gathering as many of the documents on the 'prevailing list' as I could, I endured much of the same in getting to the 6th floor and this time by God's grace found a different officer. Bar the academic certificates, the application I eventually submitted – complete with the benchmark from an 'unacceptable' auditor - was identical to what I had the day before. The 'prevailing list' did not re-appear.
Despite my less than heart-warming experience, I do not regret my decision. Although there is a place for agents who offer a service that many need, few can afford the prohibitive cost of a reputable agent whilst the risk of encountering an incompetent one is too high. A more efficient submission process would benefit both applicants and DHA staff who at this stage of the process are seemingly overwhelmed.