by Robbie Ragless
South African visa and permit applicants are facing the rigours and frustrations of being at the mercy of a processing system that is failing to serve its customers.
Earlier this year the South African Department of Home Affairs expressed their confidence in the then newly appointed VFS who would be managing the submission process of all visa and permit applications in South Africa. Yet it seems that now VFS is significantly overwhelmed and is battling to correct an ever increasing backlog says Gershon Mosiane, Chairman of the Forum of Immigration Practitioners (FIPSA).
“Early this year the signs were there and FIPSA expressed its concerns both publically and to the Minister of Home Affairs,” says Mosiane of the situation at VFS where scheduling appointments was to take place within 5 days of registering an application on the new online booking system. “In reality we have heard reports of some cases where applicants have been waiting for a submission booking for longer than 60 days. Presently at some VFS offices, submission appointments are only available in March 2015. The system does not allow for cancellations or changes which results in several thousand unaccounted no shows which clogs up the system”
“There has also been an alarming increase in complaints relating to appointments not being carried through with on time and often applicants end up waiting 7 hours to be seen. There is also no solution for poor applicants who are paying VFS with no service delivery commitment to them. Even after paying an extra fee for a VIP lounge, which is supposed to ensure swift processing, you are not guaranteed a par excellence service given the chaotic state of the system.” says Mosiane
Another huge source of frustration is the turnaround of submissions via VFS and the resultant communication to applicants. Often it takes up to 4 months for a basic tourist visa application to be approved and by the time the applications are finalised the applicant is illegal and is declared undesirable on departure from South Africa and unable to return to for up to 5 years through no fault of their own.
Mosiane added that a further concern was that some applicants are now inadvertently facing rejection of their applications, “The new law states that one must submit no later than 60 days prior to their current visa expiring but if one doesn’t have an opportunity to submit because of logistical challenges at VFS, why should the applicant be prejudiced against?”
Adding to the applicants’ perils VFS have announced their office closures for the festive season, closing from the 19th December to the 5th of January 2015. Not only does this contribute to their extensive backlog, it also translates to the fact that no applications will be processed for a period of 16 days, while the Department of Home Affairs who managed the submission process prior to VFS’ appointment, never closed meaning applicants could submit over the festive period.
This is against the backdrop that in terms of the regulations, applicants have to submit at a Department of Home Affairs office not VFS. Therefore this closure will be governments’ failure to provide a legal obligation and is not a VFS issue
This closure will result in applicants facing rejections of their applications through no fault of their own and with the urgency of which some applications must be processed the new system is failing its clients.
There are no signs of improvement and similar to the power crisis in South Africa, rectifying these issues will take months, if not years.
- FIPSA is the Forum of Immigration Practitioners of South Africa, and consists of voluntary members who are Registered Immigration Practitioners. FIPSA functions on a regional basis and has a National Structure which deals with National issues impacting on the profession. There are currently 3 established regions: Gauteng, Western Cape and Kwa-Zulu/Natal.