Some have undergone extensive renovations; others have digitized their systems to adapt to new ways of conducting business online. The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) seems to be following suit.
In a recent communication to parliament, minister Aaron Motsoaledi hinted that the adjustment to level 1 signalled the end of downtime at home affairs. Not only has operations at branch-level returned to normal with full force, but Dr Motsoaledi highlighted some changes and improvements they hope to implement by 2024.
The knock-on effect of lockdown and the coming elections
The closure of international borders during the pandemic, did not only leave travellers or expatriates stranded in foreign countries, but it also wreaked havoc for immigration services the world over. Because the travel ban offered no certainty about when travel would return to normal, systems and procedures had to be adjusted and rules and regulations had to be relaxed. In similar fashion, the DHA resorted to forego renewal deadlines for passports, IDs, permits and visas, with generous extensions given to those who were caught in limbo.
The validity period of visas, as well as asylum and refugee permits, that were legally issued by the DHA between December 2019 and 14 March 2021, were extended to 31 December 2021. However, visas that were obtained post-15 March 2021, will be subject to the normal application criteria. Even individuals whose Permanent Residence Permit applications were rejected between 10 March 2020 and 30 September 2021, were given until 15 December 2021 to submit an appeal application to the DHA.
With local government elections around the corner, DHA extended their hours during the voter’s registration weekend and vowed to fast track applications for identification documents, as well as offer ongoing support to those in need of ID’s or temporary identification certificates. However, as reassuring as these efforts have been, the DHA is looking even further to the future.
Home Affairs is set to enter the digital age
Leniencies and good graces aside, the DHA has bounced back from lockdown with a much-needed plan to revamp their department. This promises to streamline their services and expedite application processes across the board, which comes as great news for individuals looking to obtain residency permits or visas.
Dr Motsoaledi mentioned that the key focus of their overhaul would be to conform to the need for digital transformation. While it is equally important to do a modernization of walk-in branches, internet access and tech updates will improve their information technology infrastructure. The most obvious obstacle to address was the outdated IT framework, which has become the true thorn in the department’s side. The issue of connectivity and internet speed had caused severe system delays over the years, which further stalled the digitization process.
Mobile trucks equipped with VSAT systems to facilitate services in rural areas and state-of-the-art self-service kiosks where citizens can reprint or re-issue certificates, applications, Smart ID’s or passports, are some of the enhancements Dr Motsoaledi has earmarked for future roll-out.
Home Affairs are slowly working towards a fully integrated system where the burden of administration is simplified or turned into a self-service solution where applicants can track their progress online. These enhancements will certainly put South African immigration services on the right track towards reaching an international standard. Until such time, it is always advisable to consult an immigration specialist who has an established relationship with the DHA.