UPDATE: Department of Home Affairs Visa Application Backlog

A leaked internal memo by the Sunday Times sheds light on the Department of Home Affairs’ (DHA) alarming backlog of 950,000 temporary residence visa permit applications. The memo, sent by the state attorney’s office in Cape Town, highlights the legal consequences faced by the department due to its inability to process applications promptly.

The memo outlines the following issues arising from the backlog:

  1. Proliferation of class action lawsuits against Home Affairs, resulting in cost orders.
  2. Applicants “jumping the queue” as courts order expedited processing, disrupting immigration procedures.
  3. National security risks due to rushed vetting processes by DHA officials fearing contempt of court.
  4. Blockage of skilled overseas applicants seeking employment in South Africa.

Authored by Shireen Karjiker, Dalphine Smith, and Sachin-Lee Simpson, the memo expresses concern about continuous litigation and escalating legal costs. It refers to a 2017 Supreme Court of Appeal ruling criticizing the DHA’s failure to adjudicate permits promptly. The court dismissed an appeal against an order from the Western Cape High Court, describing the department’s approach as “unconscionable” and “disgraceful.”

The memo points out the increase in class action cases since the 2017 ruling, with mandamus applications becoming common. Mandamus is a legal term for a court order compelling government officials to perform their duties.

The authors list various court cases against the DHA since 2015, citing recent class actions involving 37 and 185 applicants, respectively. These cases seek adjudication and delivery of permits and appeals within 30 days of court orders. The memo urges the DHA to disclose its challenges in court papers, suggesting that the court may offer an opportunity to address the crisis.

One immigration services company, Intergate, has incurred over R1 million in legal costs in cases against the DHA. Director Flonique Ashbury expresses concern about inconsistent decisions by DHA officials and warns of potential damage to the economy if the system is not resolved.

Another leaked document reveals that, as of September 11 last year, there were 95,711 temporary residence visa applications awaiting adjudication, with 58,705 not yet assigned to an adjudicator.

Stefanie De Saude-DarObandi, whose law firm brought the 2017 class action suit, emphasizes the challenges faced in enforcing court orders due to non-compliance by the DHA’s director-general and minister.

In November, Home Affairs Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, published a White Paper proposing significant changes to the migration system, citing the need to address the application backlog. Staff shortages caused by the suspension or dismissal of DHA officials for fraud and corruption are identified as a factor contributing to the slow application process.