23 January 2018
Some Zimbabweans living in South Africa are at risk of being in the country unlawfully because of a bureaucratic hurdle.
Many have applied for a Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) to regularise their stay in the country. But one of the requirements for applying for a ZEP is having a valid Zimbabwean passport that does not expire for at least 90 days. The time-consuming process of getting a passport has meant that many applicants for the ZEP are turned away by Visa Facilitation Services (VFS), the company managing the application process, because they do not yet have their passports, even if they can show proof that they’ve applied for one. Proof of application used to be sufficient for VFS, but no longer.
As as result, they risk missing the 31 January deadline to apply for a ZEP.
In addition, the cost of applying for a Zimbabwean passport is expensive for many asylum seekers who do not earn much. It costs $53 (R640) for an ordinary passport application, $253 (R3,050) to make an urgent application to get a passport within three days, and $315 (R3,800) to get one within 24 hours.
Passport applications have to be done via a Zimbabwean consulate. Following this, an application form is sent to the family in Zimbabwe who submit it and collect the passport. A family member has to send the passport back to South Africa using a courier service.
GroundUp saw people being turned away though they had proof that they had applied for passports. When asked why he was turning people away, a VFS manager replied, “In the beginning of the process we were accepting proof that a new passport was applied for, but we have changed and there are no exceptions. Applicants should apply for emergency passports and bring those.”
One irate applicant asked: “Is VFS there to help us stay legal or the opposite? Our children will be turned away from school if we don’t provide proof that we have renewed their permits. I wish they would allow me to submit while I raise money for an emergency passport application.”
But in an email to GroundUp, VFS said it was merely following the process set out by the Department of Home Affairs. “As one of the requirements of this process … it is important that the applicants must submit their original passport which has a validity of 90 calendar days. In cases where the applicant’s passport is about to expire, proof of the application for a new passport is required. VFS Global has accepted close to 200 plus cases of this nature without turning back the applicants. However, having proof of the new passport application does not waiver the requirement for an original passport valid for 90 days.”
Home Affairs did not respond to requests for comment.