The South African government on Tuesday said around 250,000 Zimbabweans living in the country on temporary visas due to expire this year can get three-year extensions, delaying a possible mass expulsion of workers.
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said a scheme that allowed Zimbabweans to flee the political crisis at home on four-year work visas would be extended until 2017.
"The new special permit is valid only for three years," Gigaba told reporters, making it clear this was only a reprieve for worried Zimbabweans.
Following violence-tainted elections in 2008 and land grabs that spooked investors, Zimbabwe plunged into a deep recession that saw sky-high unemployment and hyperinflation running into the billions of percent.
Zimbabweans can be found across SA working in the mining, retail, service and financial sectors.
But Gigaba, part of a government under pressure to stem South Africa's own high and growing levels of unemployment, indicated the hospitality would come to an end.
Although the Zimbabwean economy is still struggling with unemployment rates of over 50%, Gigaba said the next three years would allow those who want to return home to do so.
"We believe the conditions [in Zimbabwe] have improved and will continue to improve," he said.
Government in May introduced immigration reforms aimed at tightening visa regulations and closing loopholes.
Only those that were granted special permits will now apply online for a new permit to be known as the Zimbabwe Special Permit.
The permit application will start on 1st October 2014 up to 31 December 2014. All permits issued 4 years ago will expire on 31 December 2014 hence people will start applying on the 1st October 2014. The Minister will extend all permits that have expired.
The leadership of Zimbabwe Community In South Africa welcomes the decision by the Minister but there is still more work to be done to help those that will now qualify under the new permit regime. We are going to engage COSATU, SACP and the ANC on the status of Zimbabweans who are working in South Africa but will not qualify on the new Zimbabwe Special Permit.
1. All DZP programme will be brought to an end 31 Dec 2014…. New programme called ZSP will be introduced in 01 Jan 2015 only for DZP holders
2. Applications to be start in Oct 2014. Admission fee to be introduced. Application to be done in SA through VFS centres.
3. New duration will be 3 years. 4 extra VSF Centres to be opened. People whose permits have expired have an extension till December 14.
4. Public awareness programme to be rolled out as soon as possible. Stake holders consultation structure to be established and will be led by Jacky Mackey.
5. Families and spouses will be asked to follow the normal process of applying not under the ZSP.
6 ZSP permit holders wanting to stay after end of ZSP have to return to Zimbabwe to reapply for a mainstream visa.
7. No more renewals of new ZSP dispensation after 2017.
8. Only current holders of DZP are allowed to apply for ZSP.