The end of the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) Program brought a wave of uncertainty and apprehension to the lives of over 177,000 Zimbabweans residing in South Africa. As the announcement of its termination was made, a sense of doom and gloom permeated the community, leaving ZEP holders anxious about their future in the country they had called home for years. However, amidst this initial despair, a glimmer of hope emerged. This blog aims to shed light on the evolving situation, highlighting positive developments and providing guidance on the available options for those affected.

Many believed the withdrawal of the ZEP to be a forced deportation disguised as a legitimate government action. These fears were realised at the beginning of 2022 when a flurry of rejections on applications were received by many ZEP applicants.  This coupled with the messaging coming from the Minister of Home Affairs (“Minister”) seemed to confirm the widespread fear that this was indeed a mass deportation. Shortly thereafter, several cases were brought before the courts to challenge the decision to withdraw the ZEP. Judgement has been reserved in these cases with a decision expected imminently.

A few weeks later the mass rejections were reversed, and letters issued to the recipients withdrawing the decisions. In the following months the messaging changed, and the Minster indicated that the decision to withdraw the ZEP was meant to assist ZEP holders rather than to remove them from the Republic.  The Minster rightly argued that on the current permits the holders were not eligible to apply for permanent residence given the restrictive conditions attached to the ZEP. The Minister encourage all ZEP holders to take advantage of this opportunity to apply for mainstream visas and extended the grace period to 30 June 2023.

At the end of 2022, decisions started to be made in line with this messaging as more positive outcomes were received for ZEP holder applicants. To date, most of the outcomes received by our client’s and others have been positive. The sense of doom and gloom that was initially felt when the announcement was made that the ZEP will be withdrawn, is slowly but surely lifting. In its stead is a renewed sense of hope that the those on the ZEP can qualify for mainstream visas and remain in the country.

We encourage all ZEP holders to lodge their applications for mainstream visas as soon as possible as the deadline is fast approaching, and time is of the essence!

There are various possibilities and solutions available for ZEP holders who are seeking to establish their legal status in South Africa. Here are some pathways that may be accessible:

Work Visa – for ZEP holders currently employed in South Africa.

This visa requires the support of your employer, who must be willing to assist with your visa application and conduct the necessary labour market testing to demonstrate that there are no qualified South Africans available to fill your position. It may in certain instances be possible to apply for a waiver, to do away with the requirement to do labour market testing.

Study Visa – for ZEP holders who aspire to pursue studies in South Africa

You can apply for a study visa. This visa enables you to enrol in approved educational institutions and complete your studies without the need to leave the country.

Spousal Visa – for ZEP holders who are married to or in a permanent life partnership with a South African citizen or permanent resident.

You are eligible to apply for a spousal visa. This visa permits you to reside and, if you apply for a work endorsement, work in South Africa.

Business Visa – for ZEP holders who intend  to establish a business or make investments in South Africa.

You can apply for a business visa. This type of visa allows you to set up and manage a business within the country for a specified period of time.

Medical Treatment Visa – for ZEP holders who require medical treatment in South Africa.

You have the option to apply for a medical treatment visa. This visa grants you permission to stay in the country for the duration of your treatment and recovery.

Retired Person Visa – for ZEP holders who are retired or meet financial thresholds and wish to reside in South Africa.

You can apply for a retired person visa. This visa enables you to live in South Africa indefinitely, provided you can demonstrate that you possess sufficient financial resources to support yourself. You do not need to be of retirement age to apply for this visa.

While the ongoing court action may in time offer relief, it is important to consider that any decision may be subject to an appeal process. This will result in further delays in confirming the final legal position. In that time, employers, banks , landlords, schools and law enforcement authorities will require proof of application for a visa or the actual visa itself. Ultimately, it is safer to submit a visa application than not.

We want you to know and understand all of your options and secure your future. Please get in touch with us or book a free consultation with one of our consultants so that we can  assess your eligibility, discuss the most suitable visa options, and provide you with a roadmap including your next steps.

We will be hosting a live webinar on 26 May 2023 at 12 30pm to share more about the various options for ZEP holders and to answer all of your questions! Register today as spots are limited! We will also be streaming the webinar live on Facebook. You can find our Facebook Page and the event .

Author: Munyaradzi Nkomo