ZIMBABWEAN students in neighbouring South Africa have suffered a major blow after Pretoria withdrew a waiver allowing them to apply for permanent residence permits.
Foreign students studying in areas of critical skills could apply for permanent residence before attaining five years post-qualification experience, or without submitting testimonials from employers.
But South African Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi in a latest circular withdrew the blanket waiver which was granted on April 21, 2016.
In a January 31 Immigration Directive No 2 of 2022, Motsoaledi said students who wished to apply for permanent residence permits, had to comply with the country’s immigration laws.
“By virtue of the power vested in me by section 31(2) of the Immigration Act, 2002, Act No 13 of 2002, I hereby withdraw the blanket waiver which was granted on April 21, 2016, which waiver allowed foreign graduates at South African tertiary institution that studied towards degrees in the area of critical skills, to apply for a permanent residence permit without the need of first acquiring five years post-qualification experience or the need to submit testimonials from employees,” the directive read.
This came after Pretoria stopped renewing the Zimbabwean Special Permits (ZEPs) that expired in December last year, and opted to give the permit holders a year to move to other visa regimes or face deportation.
ZEP was introduced in 2009 by then Home Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as a temporary solution to a growing refugee crisis related to Zimbabwe. There are an estimated 180 000 ZEP holders in South Africa.
In December, ZEP holders field urgent court applications to overturn the decision taken by Motsoaledi not to renew their permits. The High Court in Pretoria struck their applications off the roll of urgent matters.
Zimbabwe’s ambassador to South Africa David Hamadziripi yesterday said he would consult staff to assess the impact of Motsoaledi’s latest directive targeting foreign students.
“I have just seen the minister’s directive and it is, obviously, going to affect a lot of Zimbabweans based in South Africa.
“However, I haven’t had the opportunity to meet with my staff to assess the impact of the said directive. We will be convening a meeting with my colleagues so that we come up with an informed opinion on the latest development,” Hamadziripi said.
South African nationals are lobbying for Zimbabwean immigrants to leave that country as they accuse them of stealing their jobs. South Africa has also tightened border control measures to stop illegal immigrants from entering that country.
Analysts said the neighbouring country was putting in place stringent immigration measures to deal with internal political problems ahead of its 2024 elections.
A member of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher and Tertiary Education, Daniel Molokela (Citizens Coalition for Change) said: “We must not be surprised by such measures that are being put in place to stop African immigrants into South Africa. We must actually brace for more measures of the same nature.
“We have in the past years witnessed thousands of Zimbabweans relocating to South Africa and that has created a political crisis for the neighbouring country. The measures are being put in place by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to solve the crisis ahead of the country’s upcoming polls.”
Some political parties such as ActionSA and the Patriotic Alliance performed well in SA’s November 2021 municipal elections after riding on the anti-immigrant sentiment.
In January, there were reports of xenophobic attacks against Zimbabwean immigrants in areas such as Diepkloof, Rosebank and Turfontein.
Molokela said the influx of immigrants, especially from Zimbabwe “is a reminder to Sadc that the Zimbabwean crisis should be resolved with urgency”.
Political analyst Eiffe Ncube said the new measures against fellow countrymen in South Africa had serious negative effects on the local economy as they contributed significantly through diaspora remittances.
“Every employment policy that is implemented in South Africa, United Kingdom or any other country where Zimbabweans are based will affect our economy because the country is benefiting much from diaspora remittance,” Ncube said.
“The immigration crisis in South Africa is centred on the elections that are due in the country. The ruling party is reacting to the extreme political groupings that have become very sensitive to the continued rise of immigrants in the country. ANC is adopting populist political policies to deal with its rivals and secure victory in the upcoming elections.”
Zimbabweans in South Africa are estimated to be around three million.