ZEP extension granted: what next?

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FIFI PETERS: Zimbabwe nationals living, working and serving in South Africa under the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP), were recently given more time to do so [legally], following a decision by the Home Affairs minister [Aaron Motsoaledi] to extend the termination of the scheme until June 30 next year.

But we know that the minister’s decision in and of itself to want to terminate the ZEP on a number of claims is currently being challenged in court. For more on the story and what happens in the meantime while the ZEP is being extended, I’m joined by Moeketsi Seboko, immigration manager at Xpatweb.

Moeketsi, thanks so much for your time. Just what do you make of the story and where things currently stand?

Read: Claims of harassment and intimidation as ZEP case turns ugly

MOEKETSI SEBOKO: Good evening Fifi, and good evening to the listeners. Well, this might be seen as positive news and a gesture from the department – especially if you are a Zimbabwean on a ZEP – to allow you to extend your application and to allow you to apply for a permit that you might qualify for to stay in the country for a longer period while we await this to play [out] in court.

FIFI PETERS: What are the reasons stated for challenging this in court? I see that one of the reasons why the minister, the Home Affairs department, wants to terminate the scheme is because it claims that it’s quite costly to administer. I’d like your take on those reasons, and whether you think some of them are justified.

Read:
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MOEKETSI SEBOKO: Well, I wouldn’t know if it’s justified, and I wouldn’t know for sure if that is based on sound research data – but that’s what Home Affairs alleges and that’s what we have to go with. I think what is mostly behind the reason to discontinue the ZEP is the unemployment rate that SA finds itself in, and the public notion that the Zimbabweans are taking employment away from South Africans. Maybe this is one of the many ways that the government is trying to show that they will want to prioritise South Africans over foreign nationals – [it] might be of course open to discussion whether this is the right way to do it or not.

FIFI PETERS: A counter argument I read is that some of the ZEP holders – around 178 000 or so – only make up 0.3% of South Africa’s population, and therefore how can they be accused of taking South African jobs? What do you think of that counter-argument?

MOEKETSI SEBOKO: Funnily enough, I’ve just been sent the recent data on the number of Zimbabweans in the country, and there are about 700 000 Zimbabweans in South Africa. Of those, there are about 178 000 who are on that ZEP.

Now, if you compare it, it’s obvious that there are more Zimbabweans who are illegally in the country than those who are legal and making meaningful contributions to the economy.

I think, then, our focus in trying to resolve our unemployment issue is towards the wrongly targeted population of Zimbabwe.

FIFI PETERS: I hear you. So are you representing any clients in the space that are being impacted by this decision?

MOEKETSI SEBOKO: Yes. We are also in partnership with Standard Bank, in which then they refer most of their clients who are on ZEPs to us to assist with applications to extend their current visas. We do get clients who come from other sources as well.

This is the space that we operate in, and we do assist Zimbabweans in this regard, and we would like to invite any Zimbabweans who want to extend their current visa to get in touch with us, and then we’ll see how we can best assist.

FIFI PETERS: In the event that the ZEP scheme eventually does come to a close, as in next year, [and] we don’t get another extension, you did say that what could happen is ZEP holders would be allowed to apply for a work visa or another visa here in South Africa. What is the likelihood that they’d be granted that visa?

MOEKETSI SEBOKO: Fifi, I think I will need to say this first. The Department of Home Affairs is adamant in discontinuing this dispensation. It’s only if the court decides or directs otherwise [that it won’t]. But Home Affairs is adamant. This is the last time the ZEP concession is being issued. There will not be any further beyond June 30 next year.

Unfortunately for Zimbabweans, the minister has also extended an invitation to them to apply to extend their ZEPs. This is the only option that they have if they want to stay legally and legitimately in SA, otherwise they will have to go back home. So if a person wants to remain and stay in the country legally, let them apply. We don’t know what the outcome will be; it depends on the merit of the application. At least you would’ve shown that you intended legalising your status in the country. But the decision lies with Home Affairs eventually.

But I would encourage ZEP holders to take advantage of this opportunity and apply to extend their current visas, or apply for visas that are in line with the Immigration Act.

FIFI PETERS: But if the position, as you explained, is the perception that Zimbabwe nationals are taking South African jobs, or perhaps even contributing to the unemployment crisis here by there being such a large population of them in this country, then does that not signal or indicate that the chances of all ZEP holders actually getting a work visa or some form of permanent residency is low?

MOEKETSI SEBOKO: Not necessarily. I would say that the problem is not the Zimbabweans who are legally in the country. The problem is the Zimbabweans who are unaccounted for and who are illegally in the country. That’s where the problem is, because those are not regulated.

There are 178 000 Zimbabweans [on ZEPs]. Compare that to the number of unemployed South Africans, and tell me how that will impact or will even swing to the benefit of South Africans being employed.

It doesn’t make sense that you will want to target people who are legal and leave those who are illegal to still stay in the country and continue to take employment from South Africans, if that’s what they’re doing anyway.

FIFI PETERS: Yes, I agree with you. But I suppose we’ll have to follow that story closely, particularly the legal action around the story and how that plays out. Moeketsi, thanks so much for your time this evening. Moeketsi Seboko is immigration manager at Xpatweb.

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