This past week the government of South Africa announced its decision not to renew the Zimbabwe exemption permit. This announcement came as a shock to the 180 000 Zimbabweans who had become accustomed to the 4-year renewal of the permit. Many of these individuals have made South Africa their home for the past 15 years and the decision was unexpected. However, as the dust settles from this bruising encounter few questions remain. Is this decision lawful? What next for these individuals and what does this grace period mean? We will answer these questions in this article in the hope that these answers will give much needed clarity to the thousands affected by this decision.
Is the decision lawful?
To answer this question, we need to unpack and understand the exact nature of the ZEP and that a whole other subject on its own. In summary, the permit was issued in terms of section 31(2) if the Immigration Act. This section grants the minister the power to exempt a foreigner or a class of foreigners from either complying with any prescribed requirement for a visa on good cause. So, in essence for the past 15 years the Minister has been extending an exemption or waiver to this group of Zimbabweans. This decision was based on the cabinets policy position on this specific group of Zimbabweans and since that position has changed the Minister will no longer issue a waiver for this class of foreigners. This decision can only be challenged if it can be shown to be irrational or unlawful. Rationality looks at whether the action taken is in line with the objectives of the legislative instrument that empowers the minister to make this decision. Given that there is a clear shift in government policy it therefore follows that the decision is given effect to that policy.
So, what do we know?
ZEP permit holders have been given a grace period from the 1st of January 2022 to 31st of December 2022 to regularize their status in line with Immigration Act. This is not an extension, and no visa will be issued to that effect. In a directive that has been circulating certain concessions of have been given which provide guidance on how holders of the ZEP permits should be treated by various institutions such schools, banks, employers etc.
These organizations must continue to offer their services to the ZEP holders. Employers must continue with the employment relationship on condition that the person produces proof of application for the mainstream visa in the form of a VFS receipt. Individuals seeking to avert challenges with employment, banks and schools must ensure that applications are submitted as expeditiously as possible.
Travel will be allowed for form ZEP permit holders during the grace period. However, After the 31st of December 2022 travel will only be allowed where a person can provide proof of application for the mainstream visa.
ZEP permit holders will be allowed to submit their applications at VFS centers in South Africa for the duration of grace period.
Contact us for assistance with your change of status from a ZEP permit to the mainstream visa.