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Home Affairs to tighten grip on illegal immigration and spazas


The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) plans a radical overhaul of SA’s visa regime and a much tougher stance on illegal immigration and refugees.

The final version of the white paper on citizenship, immigration and refugee protection was published on Wednesday after considering public comments from civil society, the United Nations and others.

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced a sweeping reform of the country’s visa regime at a media presentation, also on Wednesday.

In will come limited-duration permanent residence visas linked to minimum investment, e-visas for tourists, and remote work visas.

“The maximum period to issue visas must be shortened,” says the white paper.

“The new bodies to issue visas will have to strictly observe the new requirement. Transitional mechanisms will be built in in the new legislation to fast-track the resolution of current backlogs.”

Illegal foreigners

Motsoaledi says the DHA deports 15 000 to 20 000 illegal foreigners every year, which is just a fraction of those in the country. No one has any idea how many illegal foreigners are in the country, though estimates range from five to 13 million.

New legislation will be introduced to strengthen the powers of immigration officers and the inspectorate and make continuing training compulsory. The majority of members of the inspectorate must have legal qualifications and policing experience.

Motsoaledi explained that the recently introduced Border Management Authority Act will need to be reviewed to align with the Immigration Act, allowing for inter-departmental cooperation in sealing SA’s borders against illegal migration.

This means bodies such as the South African Police Service (SAPS), the South African Revenue Service (Sars), the departments of Trade and Industry, Health, Home Affairs, and others will have to be involved.

“The recent publication of the National Labour Migration Policy introducing quotas for employment of foreign nationals will go a long way in defusing simmering tensions between South African citizens and foreign nationals,” says the white paper.

The DHA’s inspectorate division will be tasked with developing a strategy to track down illegal foreigners.


Several refugee protection agreements govern SA’s approach to refugees, including the 1951 United Nations Refugees Convention and the 1969 Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, which was drafted in the spirit of Pan-Africanism as a way to deal with migration and refugees in Africa.

The 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees provided further protection for those seeking sanctuary from wars, political unrest and other causes of refugee migration.

The OAU Convention prohibits refusal of entry, expulsion or extradition of asylum seekers and refugees, though it makes provision for certain exclusions.


The Citizenship Act, first conceived in 1949, is to be reviewed to streamline citizenship by naturalisation in line with legislation in more developed countries such as the US, Britain and Canada.

“The Citizenship Act and Births and Deaths Registration Act must be repealed in their entirety and be included in the single legislation dealing with citizenship, immigration and refugee protection,” said Motsoaledi.

“This will remove contradictions and loopholes in the paths towards citizenship as is now the case with the three pieces of legislation.”

A proper register of all naturalised citizens must be maintained and tabled annually in parliament by the minister of Home Affairs.

Agricultural labour and spaza shops

Agri SA has argued for exemptions for the agricultural sector due to its reliance on unskilled foreign labour.

Motsoaledi says Home Affairs is willing to enter into public-private partnerships with organisations such as Agri SA to agree on quotas as proposed under the Labour Migration Policy.

Spaza shops owned by foreign nationals are also under the spotlight. The DHA proposes that all municipalities across the country conduct an audit of these shops to establish the owners’ immigration status. 

“Furthermore, municipalities will introduce by-laws to regulate the location and other requirements such as, health and safety. Traditional leaders will play an important role in respect of informal shops located in communal land,” said Motsoaledi.

The audit of spazas will ensure these businesses are registered for tax and other regulatory requirements, and it will not be permissible for owners and their employees to sleep and wash on these premises.

(This article first appeared in Moneyweb)