Answer to a question from a reader

Can the children of diplomats apply to be permanent residents in South Africa?

The short answer

Yes, if they are dependent, aged between 18 and 23, and studying. They'll need temporary residence first.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

I have been living in South Africa since 2007 as a diplomat with my children. They were minors when we moved. Now that they are adults, they want to apply for permanent residency here. What are the conditions for them to achieve this?

The long answer

It seems, from a Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) circular issued in 2021 in terms of the Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act 37 of 2001, that only dependent children above 18 and below 23 years will be registered and accredited if they are studying and this can be proved. If they are not studying, the diplomat must give reasons why they should be considered dependent. 

In the same circular, it says that a dependent child cannot work for money in South Africa unless they have a work permit, for which they have applied through a South African mission.

The circular goes on to state that only spouses and dependent children over 16 years of age will be issued diplomatic identity cards, provided they are studying. If they are accredited, DIRCO will issue temporary residence permits, which are issued for up to a year and have to be renewed annually.  

Even though they have lived here since 2007, it seems that before your children can apply for direct permanent residence, they must first have temporary residence permits. 

You would also know that in February 2022, the Minister of Home Affairs withdrew the 2016 waiver that allowed foreigners who graduated from a South African institution with a qualification in a critical skills field to apply for permanent residence in terms of section 27 (b) of the Immigration Act. The waiver had removed the requirement for graduates to have five years of post-qualification experience before applying for permanent residence, but it has now been withdrawn.

Permanent residence permits (section 26 of the Immigration Act) can only be applied for once a foreigner has lived for a minimum of five years in South Africa on the basis of a work permit. The permanent resident’s spouse and dependent children can also apply for permanent residence.

As you will know, Home Affairs abruptly closed applications for permanent residence in 2020, at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, and only re-opened applications for permanent residence in January 2022. That means that as there was a large backlog even before the closure, it is estimated that they may now have a backlog of some 50,000 applications, which means, in turn, that applications could take up to five years to finalise.

Not an encouraging picture, I’m afraid.

Wishing you the best,

Answered on Aug. 15, 2022, 12:44 p.m.

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