Media Statement & Transcript: Minister Gigaba’s address to the departments weekly media briefing on the new Visa Facilitation Centres, Pretoria, 5 June 2014

Published: 05 June 2014

Issued by Department of Home Affairs, 909 Arcadia Street, Pretoria
Let me take this opportunity once more to welcome you to our weekly media briefing which will focus mainly on the opening of visa facilitation centres inside the country as per our announcement last week.

However, may I first restate that we remain on course in implementing the new Immigration Regulations of 2014. I have signed the necessary notices to accompany the regulations. The last notices to be determined are the list of undesirable businesses, businesses in the national interests and investment amount in the issuance of a business visa. These processes will be finalized upon conclusion of consultations with the Minister of Trade and Industry. We remain resolute that the new immigration regulations are in line with our objective of managing immigration efficiently and effectively while protecting the integrity of our borders and the sovereignty of our country.

We need to reiterate that these new immigration regulations ought to be located within our mandate and the position of the Department within the broader government structure. It is equally important for us to explain, foremost, that the Department of Home Affairs is a security department that delivers services to the citizenry.

In this regard, the security of our country is paramount and central to all our endeavors in pursuit of our key objective of together moving South Africa forward. As the custodian of enabling documents in the country, we believe it is imperative that we tighten our legislation as we continue to ensure the effective and secure management of immigration in the national interest including economic, social and cultural development.

We are insisting on basic things that foreign nationals must abide by in sojourning in the republic. In this regard the law requires that we issue visas and permits to individuals who present themselves in person for security reasons. As another security measure foreign nationals must submit biometrics. A new system to verify travellers in advance has been regulated. As part of our determination to protect the rights of children, it is now required that children travel with passports and unabridged birth certificates.

THE OPENING OF VISA FACILITATION CENTRES INSIDE THE COUNTRY.

With regard to the opening of visa facilitation centres in the country let me first reiterate that the Department has a responsibility to manage immigration effectively and securely in the best interest of the nation to advance socio-economic development of the country. In realizing this strategic goal, the Department has modernized the immigration service by overhauling the administration of the permitting processes.In pursuant of this goal, the Department has appointed VFS Global to receive and manage visa and permit applications in South Africa.
The company is given the mandate to automate the application processes, develop a solution for biometric intake in line with the immigration regulations, manage a dedicated permitting call centre and deliver outcomes to clients efficiently and timely.

The current measures being introduced in the country adds impetus to similar ones the Department made in high volume missions such as Nigeria, China, Ghana, DRC, Angola and Kenya. In these missions and as part of improving services to clients, the Department had to cut long queues and reduce turn-around times to adjudicate visas. This intervention had a positive impact on South Africa’s adjudication of visas.

Through the introduction of VFS in South Africa, clients are now required to apply on-line, set-up appointments and visit the visa facilitation centres for biometric intake. Unlike in the past, clients can now pay using electronic methods for both the handling fee for VFS and visa fees due to the state. This is a radical departure from the existing mode of manual application processes that are responsible for inefficiencies within the permitting environment.

In making this paradigm shift in our visa and permitting regime, VFS Global will establish 11 Visa Facilitation Centres in all of our nine provinces. The Pretoria, Rustenburg and Kimberly centres were the first to open on Monday 2 June 2014.

These will be followed by Durban, Bloemfontein and George on the 9 June 2014. The centre in Johannesburg will go live on 18 June 2014, Cape Town on 20 June 2014 while Polokwane, Nelspruit and Port Elizabeth will start operating on 23 June 2014. It is worth noting that Gauteng and Western Cape provinces will have two centres each in the light of their high volume of applications.

It is critical to note that the decisions to either approve or reject applications lie with the Department. In this manner we will be able to exercise full control over the decision-makingprocesses to ensure that our national interests and security imperatives are served at all times.

The approach we are taking is informed by none other than our commitment to improve efficiencies and turnaround times. We are building on the work we have done since we embarked on the modernization of Home Affairs, by bringing more technological innovation to improve services. In this way we will also be able to reduce possible acts of corruption associated with the manual permit processing system.

The decision on our part to appoint a private service provider for visa facilitation services should be understood within the broader context of the work we are doing to strengthen South Africa’s immigration policy to meet the country’s goal of transforming the economy, attracting investment, creating sustainable jobs and improving the lives of our people.

While we remain committed to help the country to create a climate conducive for investment and to assist in bringing critical skills to contribute to economic development, it remains critical for us as a country to also beef-up security in the interest of all citizens and other foreign nationals in the country, as is the case everywhere else in the world.
I thank you for giving us this opportunity to address you on these critical issues of the day. We provide you with the list of visa facilitation centres below which we will be uploading onto our departmental website soon.
I thank you.

tada

Transcript Copy; Minister Malusi Gigaba’s Briefing on Visa Facilitation Centres

Question: I understand that the VFS services are going to charge R1300 per person per application, for some families that is going to be an awful lot of money, and many immigration…(inaudible) as a complete rip-off and secondly there have been questions about how legal this tender was…whether this is legal or not?

Question: Minister, are we working towards a commitment from your department as to timeframes? I know for example other governments or other departments abroad would say: “You can do this…this process will take so long, obviously, barring irregularities or legal problems but in general this process will take so long.” Is that something we are working towards? …South Africans or people wanting visas and other documents from the department, will we have that commitment from you?

Question: Minister, tourism is one of the success stories of the previous administration, what are some of the immediate impacts that this new regime is expected to have on that sector and investments in tourism?

Question: To avoid a situation we had with Sanral and the payment options operated, how will you minimize similar problems with this system?

Answer (Deputy Minister Fatima Chohan): What I want us to bear in mind is that most visitors to this country apply for their visas in our missions abroad, that is your first port of entry, so to speak…to acquire a visa. We have Visa Facilitation Centres at quite a few of our high volume missions abroad and they have been working fairly successfully…contributing, I might add, to the success of our tourism stats over the last few years. It is this good practice that we hope to rollout in South Africa. In the future, we will have these Visa Facilitation Centres that exist in the country, available to foreign nationals who require extensions for their existing visas while they are in the country. So, in a sense we are not talking about people who come in the country who are destitute, we are not talking about South African citizens who will be using the Visa Facilitation Centres. We are talking about people who come into the country either as visitors, tourists or people who come in on work permits who wish for those work permits to be extended and other types of visas such as medical visas and so on. I think that is the context we need to understand and appreciate when we start asking about fees and so on…We are talking about those people who already have the money to come to South Africa whose bank accounts we would have verified up-front at our missions before we granted them the first visa. That is the context we must just remember.

Answer (Director-General Mkuseli Apleni): The Minister has indicated that he will be inviting the media to these offices when they are ready. On the issue of the fee, which is R1350, I think it is important for us to understand that time is money. The department has been faced with a problem of issuing visas…taking between six to twelve months while people suffered. But with this system, which will allow people to receive their visas within a short space of time…if you can go to our offices, some of them are not in an ideal state because we are dealing all the services in one building issuing passports, birth and death certificates and permits. So, the decision was taken to split these services so that we are able to service people better. With this R1350 we are gaining additional office space as the Minister said, we have got 11 offices throughout the country and we will not be using paper, we will be sending your information on the system…You will be able to apply at home, at your own convenience so that when you go to the office of Home Affairs we only take your fingerprints and picture. That testimony can be understood with the Smart ID card because before, your ID was taking 180 days and then 54 days but today you get your smart card within seven days. Just think about that foreign national who wants to open a business and is now able to get a response within a period of three weeks.

With regard to legality, our view is that when making the laws we go through a process…we go to Parliament which has its own process where the public is invited for participation and it also goes through the state attorneys before being signed into a law. But South Africa is a free society and if people have got doubts they can approach the courts and they will have to pronounce on the matter.

In regard to timeframes, there is a commitment on this, for instance with the study visa, we really puzzled that a student will finish their degree and wish to move onto an Honours degree but then it takes a year to approve. Why should it be when this person is already admitted at the university? But we are committed to timeframes which we have set for ourselves. We have said that for a permit it must be a period of four weeks; for a permanent residence it must be eight weeks. We will achieve that because it no longer on paper which needed to be couriered, gets lost but if it is automated you apply today and we get the information instantly and then the adjudicator can work on it.

On tourism, it will make improvements in the sector because this issue is coupled with the amendments in the regulations and what it means is that it will make it easier for people because they will apply and get their visas on time.

With regard to the payment system, it needs to be remembered that we had a manual payment arrangement where people had to carry cash and sometimes receipts got lost or misallocated. Now you will be able to go into a Home Affairs office with your credit or debit card. There will be no problem because we have got systems and we will be able to improve our operations.

Answer (Minister Malusi Gigaba): I think the Deputy Minister has made the point eloquently that the R1350 for a visa or permit is not a rip-off if you consider it in foreign currency, it actually is nothing. Already, the Smart ID card re-application is R140.00 and the passport is R400.00. Those are services offered to South Africans and the R1350 therefore is not a rip-off at all. Sometimes the questions we ask have an underlying assumption and when you ask if the tender was awarded legally, the assumption is that it was not and that is what I am reading…that you are making an allegation that it was not. Reporter: That is what I have been told, yes. Minister Gigaba: And the people who have told you that have tested their arguments where? Reporter: Well, that is what they alleged to me. Minister Gigaba: Sometimes we must make it the responsibility of the person who makes the allegation to prove it and not the person against whom the allegation is made. Let the onus rest with them and not us, we have not been underhanded or tried to conceal what we are doing, we have been transparent with it. This is a natural tendency amongst businesspeople bidding for businesses. When you do not get it, you then allege that there were a whole lot of things that went wrong and it must not be the responsibility of the people who issued the tender to prove that there was no illegality. It must be the responsibility of the person who makes the allegation to go test their allegation. This contract was allocated some time back. When I left in 2010 this contract was in the process of being adjudicated. It is 2014 now, surely they have had enough time but anyway, they are at liberty still to come forward.

I do not think that should be the main thing, the main thing with regard to what we are announcing now are steps we are taking to improve the services we offer to those who seek to visit our country, who seek different types of visas and permits to visit South Africa…as we said when we announced the new regulations on Thursday (29 May 2014) we were already on our way to undertaking these measures to ensure that the new regulations do not become too onerous on the applicants by simplifying the processes of applying for new visas and streamlining them. One of the critical things we are doing as the department now, is instead of going into a Home Affairs office which offers everything, a one-stop shop…you want a bicycle tube you will find it here; you want a dress you will find; you want stationery you will find it. We are now desegregating our offices so that they specialize. As you can see, we are taking the visa and permitting sections out of the office so that the office does not get saturated with long queues…you get into a very confusing queue and after spending an hour on one queue you arrive at the counter and you are told: “Sorry, it was a wrong queue.”

There is no way you can simplify this except by saying there are certain functions which must be separated from others. For example, we are working towards having specialized offices. Already, we have specialized offices which take ID smart card applications. We will increase those by 40 to 110 in this financial year and we are considering even having offices that deal only with ID and passport applications separate from those that deal with birth and death certificates. This is part of the process because you can conceive of the best way to modernise Home Affairs and make it efficient unless you streamline the services that you are offering and have offices that specialize on different services bearing in mind that people do not come to our offices looking for everything on one day.

We need to assist them and our officials to deal with manageable volumes of people; assist our people more than anybody else, our clients, to come into Home Affairs offices and find very friendly services that are being offered there. In our view, this system is going to have a very positive impact on even tourism. As we have said, we have started with countries which receive a high volumes of applications…China, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and the DRC…we have started with those countries and established these services there so that people already in those countries go to these offices, file their applications and those applications are then electronically sent to us for adjudication. Obviously, we are going to continue, as we test this system and see how it responds in terms of the efficiencies; the payments; transfer of people’s data and security; and in terms of our own adjudication. We are going to, based on those lessons; continue expanding these services so that we are able, ultimately, to run an efficient system.

This is what we are trying to do with the Visa Facilitation Centres that we are announcing. We are not launching them all on the same day. We are piloting them, we have started with three now, we are moving to the next three until 23 June 2014 where we expect all eleven of them will now be operating and functional so that we can learn from the ones that are operating…how they are responding to the challenges they are facing; how they are able to improve efficiencies; and from that we will then continue launching them. At the moment, we are not envisaging that we will launch more than eleven centres across the country; we will limit ourselves to these eleven centres. We think they will suffice to respond to the volume of demand for visas and permits and they will be able to be supplemented very well by Home Affairs capacity for adjudication and the offering of these visas and permits.

Question: What is the backlog at this stage of visas and how long will it take until the backlog is cleared?

Question: This new system, how is it going to enhance your security given the fact that we have, in the past or even currently, seen people attempting to bypass the system by acquiring their visas in a fraudulent manner, given the movement of the numbers of people in and out of the country and those who are applying?

Question: I understand that the aim is to speed up the process so that people don’t wait six months for their visa, but there is this troubling interim period where people are still waiting and in the meantime are threatened with being banned from returning to this country…couldn’t there have been some leniency for those who have been stuck in the backlog for several months? I understand that the process will be speeded up but currently it isn’t.

Answer ( Minister Gigaba): There is no backlog in the visa applications…we have cleared it. When we announced the new regulations, we said that we are separating the visa from the permit. We have about 7000 remaining applications for permanent residence. We said when we announced the new regulations that the new regulations do not apply retrospectively. That means that those who had applied under the then regulations are not immediately retrospectively affected by the new regulations. It means that if you are still waiting for you permit or your visa to be issued, it will be issued in terms of the legislation under which you had applied. Once those permits and visas lapse, then the new regulations kick in and you will then be applying under the new regulations and the new legislation.

I do not think that people should panic, where there are instances when people are being threatened with deportation they must report those things to us so that we are able to help to clarify those because we appreciate the fact that whatever delays may have been there in the issuing of the visas and permits were as a result of the inefficiencies on our part. We are introducing new regulations and new systems to respond to that…to ensure that in future you do not have these backlogs. We have had to deal with over 100 000 permit applications in the past…for temporary and permanent residence and other applications. We have cut that down gradually, systematically to a point where we now say: “We have eliminated the backlog.”

If you have not received your visa yet, instead of making it an international issue raise it with us now so that we can assist you. Reporter interjects: But it is an economic issue. Minister Gigaba: It is an economic issue and that is what we are responding to here. Reporter: You don’t think it will have a negative effect on companies… Minister Gigaba: It will not have a negative effect and that is precisely why we are introducing the Visa Facilitation Centres.

With regard to enhancing security in all of these areas, we are confident that it is going to assist us a great deal to deal with the security issues. You saw on Monday (02 June 2014) when some officials and one corruptor, the corruptor and the corruptees were trapped and apprehended on the spot for trying to obtain documents illegally…we have tested this system because this company is providing these services in other countries. The systems that we are testing are to ensure that in relation to the entire chain of application there is no corruption; there are not breaches. From the moment a person applies, the transfer of their data to Home Affairs as well as the payment system are all established and structured such that they preclude any possibility of corruption and not only corruption but the theft of the identities of the people who are submitting their applications.

This is a big issue internationally and in our own country. We have suffered a great deal in terms of our integrity as a country because of the theft of the identity of the people and that is precisely why we are introducing these many changes from the green bar-coded ID document to the ID smart card; the new passport that we introduced in 2010. All of those processes are to ensure that documents we issue are corruption and theft proof…they cannot be breached. We are confident that this system goes a long way towards enhancing security and that is why we keep saying that it is not only an efficient and effective service  that we are offering to our clients. It is also a secure service. We want those whom we are told, internationally, will be concerned about security and all of these systems to understand that we are doing this to secure them whilst they are in our country; to secure their identity whilst they are in our country; and above all else we are doing it to enhance the quality of the service we give them.

Instead of them complaining about long periods of time they have to wait for our documents, as the DG was saying, we are introducing the systems; cutting down the timeframes for the issuance of the documents; and ensuring that people can get a quality service not in a fully packed Home Affairs office but in a centre convenient for that specific service so that the services that they get are of the quality that they expect. This would then enhance our profile in terms of the visitors; businesspeople and all of those people who until now, have been complaining that the service they get is not up to scratch. This is to change exactly that. ENDS

Issued by Department of Home Affairs, 909 Arcadia Street, Pretoria HERE
05 June 2014

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