Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs
The portfolio committee on home affairs held public hearings on the Immigration Amendment Bill in Parliament.
The bill was tabled in Parliament in October last year.
It will aim to rationalise the permit system by changing certain categories of temporary residence permits to visas.
A new category of permit for critical skills will also be introduced. Critical skills needed by South Africa will be identified by government from time to time.
In a briefing to Parliament in November, the director general of home affairs, Mkuseli Apleni, stated that the bill was designed to facilitate more efficient management of immigration into South Africa and not to control it.
The Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) pointed out that the skills shortage in South Africa was “among the most significant constraints on the capacity of the South African economy to grow and to create jobs”.
Much larger numbers of skilled foreigners were needed to facilitate a higher growth rate.
Therefore, migration policy reform was seen as a “critically important strategic lever” to transform the economy and strengthen national development.
However, the think-tank viewed the proposed amendments as counter-productive to South Africa’s needs in terms of skills.
The CDE believes that the bill will make South Africa’s migration policies more restrictive.
Other areas of concern include how asylum seekers at South Africa’s ports of entry would be handled and the proposal to limit the role played by immigration practitioners in terms of permit applications.
Three issues were identified as being of critical importance:
• Too much strategic and policy-making authority in the hands of the minister and director-general-inconsistent with good governance principles
• More reform needed to open up the local economy to skilled foreigners
• Bill likely to lead to more restrictive immigration system in practice
The CDE recommended that the bill be sent back to the home affairs department for redrafting. It proposed that a reworked bill focus on putting in place a migration policy regime that made South Africa as attractive as possible for skilled migrants.
The CDE called for a new migration strategy to be produced. The lack of such a strategy creates uncertainty. This strategy should then direct the making of appropriate legislation.
In their submission, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) expressed concern over the proposed amendment to section 23(1) of the Act.
This amendment aims to reduce the period of validity of a transit permit. This would accord less time for asylum seekers to travel to a refugee reception office to apply for asylum. The time would be reduced from 2 weeks to 5 days.
The proposed amendment would also empower an immigration officer to decide whether an applicant has a prima facie case to refugee status before issuing a transit permit. This is seen to be in conflict with the Refugees Act.
LHR proposed that section 23(1) not be amended.
Proposed harsher penalties in terms of section 49 were seen as counter-productive. They would encourage higher levels of illegal migration.
The proposed amendment to section 35 was also highlighted. It would allow for mandatory advance passenger processing. Players in the transport industry such as airlines would have to provide the names of passengers to the department.
The LHR is concerned about possible misuse of people’s private information and system abuse.
It proposed that the clause calling for the transmission of domestic airline electronic passenger lists should be deleted.
The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) also voiced concern over the lack of a comprehensive review of the country’s immigration policy.
Reference was made to the proposal to repeal the current provision for granting permits to exceptionally skilled persons. Such individuals would be incorporated into a “critical skills” permit.
The society noted that this development ran counter to international best practice. Government should rather look to tightening up the qualifying and extension requirements in the regulations around the issuing of permits to exceptionally skilled individuals.
Concern was also expressed at the proposed increase in penalties and sentences.
More clarity was needed on why some permits would be called visas while others would remain permits.
The proposal in the bill that a business permit would only be issued to someone investing in a business deemed to be in the “national interest” was questioned. Extensive doubt remains on what this “national interest” might be.
The LSSA recommended that the current statutory formula should remain.