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Immigration policy

Foreigners interested in becoming permanent residents in South Africa now have a chance to apply.

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, foreigners seeking permanent residency in South Africa have been denied. Although the restriction was lifted in January, there is still a significant wait for immigrants due to a growing backlog of applications.


The department of home affairs in South Africa has a backlog of permanent residency permit (PRP) applications. Processing times have been annoyingly long for the past decade. The delays at the department have been successfully challenged in court, with a 2019 judgement praising the "institutional dysfunction" at home affairs in particular.


The department of home affairs then unexpectedly banned PRP applications in March 2020, as South Africa entered a coronavirus-induced state of disaster. This, according to the agency, would allow it to eliminate the backlog of 10,000 pending permanent residence applications.


However, the Forum of Immigration Practitioners of South Africa (FIPSA) estimated that the backlog was in the order of 30,000 applications, and that clearing it while refusing to accept any new applications would take far too long.


Prior to the epidemic, PRP applications were typically resolved in two to three years. Only those applications submitted on the basis of business and key abilities were prioritized and processed faster - usually within a year.


Those applying on retirement, relative, spousal, work, and financially independent grounds have waited much, much longer.


"The fact is, they [the department of home affairs] didn't make a massive dent in the backlog," Andreas Krensel, CEO of IBN Immigration Solutions, which handles applications from predominantly European and American clients, told Business Insider South Africa.


"The backlog still exists. Even our firm has about 150 to 200 PRP applications outstanding. We belong to FIPSA… and among all these firms, we estimate that the backlog is more than 50,000 applications."


The reopening of applications in 2022 has resulted in a flood of applications, putting the department of home affairs under even more acute strain. This means that a foreign person who was eligible for their PRP during the 22-month ban but was unable to apply for it could face a five-year wait to be approved as a permanent resident.


If these applications are submitted in January, they will only be considered in 2025. This is based on pre-pandemic wait times. If the initial backlog shows no indications of recovery, as Krensel claims, these processing times may further increase.


"A lot of foreigners want to be emotionally acknowledged as a PRP holder and not feel like a temporary visitor all the time, especially when they invest in the country or have critical skills," explained Krensel.


"Now they feel unwanted [thinking] 'oh, South Africa doesn't want me, then I'll go somewhere else.' We're talking about legal, highly qualified immigration… investors, retirees, spouses. Home affairs really is prohibiting investment."


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