Four-year special permits granted to eligible Basotho by South Africa, which come into effect on 1 May 2016, are presenting a number of challenges to the public, the Sunday Express has learnt.
To qualify for the permits, applicants should have valid passports, be registered on the Lesotho National Population Registry, have police clearance from Lesotho and South Africa, provide proof of employment and business registration and registration from an educational institution in South Africa.
Applicants should also pay a M970 fee and apply online, which is presenting challenges to many Basotho.
According to Home Affairs spokesperson, Hape Marumo, the development could slow the application process due to the fee involved and technical challenges which come with submitting forms online.
“Mind you, these are low-skilled workers who are already earning very little and we were told not to give out forms for physical submission for those who’d like to apply for the four-year permits. Applications are strictly filled and submitted online,” said Ms Marumo.
Other challenges relating to the process, she added, are interfacing data bases from the two countries, and police clearance from both South Africa (SA) and Lesotho.
SA Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said in November last year when launching the Lesotho Special Permits (LSP), which would be valid from 1 May 2016 to 30 April 2020: “In October 2015, Cabinet approved the implementation of the Lesotho Special Permit. The intention of the dispensation is to regularise the stay of Lesotho nationals currently residing illegally in South Africa, some with fraudulently obtained SA documents, and others abusing the visa waiver between our two countries. The permit will assist greatly in ensuring all persons in South Africa are here on a lawful basis, with correct documentation, while supporting efforts to better manage labour flows from SADC (Southern African Development Community) states.
“The special dispensation is for Lesotho nationals who are working, studying or running businesses in South Africa without appropriate documentation, and have been in the country in such capacity before 30 September 2015.
“In the long run, this massive project will advance the goals of the National Development Plan, precisely because Lesotho nationals with special permits will work lawfully, pay taxes, and contribute to the country’s economic development and growth, as well as that of their country. We trust that the project will promote greater cooperation on managing migration challenges between the two countries.”
In an interview yesterday with the Sunday Express, High Commission of Lesotho in Johannesburg Vice-Consul Tumisang Mokoai, said there was nothing government could do regarding the application fee and process.
“In as much as we appreciate that most of the applicants earn meagre salaries, there is nothing much we can do about it as the money is paid to the South African government and not Lesotho,” said Mr Mokoai.
“Unfortunately, applications have to be paid for as we are getting services in return. Like I said, there is nothing much we can do about it to ease the pinch but that’s the only way Basotho can obtain legal documents to be in South Africa.”
However, Mr Mokoai said it was unfortunate some Basotho were now taking advantage of their fellow citizens because of the permits.
“There are some people who are now taking advantage of those who are not computer-literate and are now lying that they can fast-track the processing of the applications. This is not true and simply not possible; people have to follow procedures. This is fraud and a serious crime. This office or people calling themselves ‘free movement consultants’ are bogus. The government hasn’t engaged anyone to this effect.”
Mr Mokoai said Basotho need to be warned and avoid being tricked.
“There is only one office that’s mandated to handle these applications and it’s the South African Home Affairs department. The processing time for an application is eight weeks. That’s the approximate timeline for a decision or approval to be made by the Department of Home Affairs,” he said.
Meanwhile, all applications can be tracked online through website www.vfsvisaonline.com or www.lspvafonline to determine their status. This is the same website where application forms can be obtained.
Payments are made through the bank and proof of payment attached on the website alongside the application form.
An applicant’s passport has to be valid for more than one year at the time of submission of the application form. It is also recommended that the passport be valid for a period of more than four years. If the validity is less than four years, the holder would bear the cost of replacement of both the passport and LSP into the new passport.
According to the Director of National Identity and Civil Registry, Tumelo Raboletse, who is also a member of the South Africa-Lesotho Technical Committee on the LSP, by Friday last week, more than 1,300 people had already applied for the LSP.
Applications for the LSP started on 1 March instead of the original date of 1 February.
Mr Gigaba noted in a statement released last month regarding the new date: “Given connectivity challenges experienced, it is unlikely that online applications will be submitted on 1 February 2016 as originally planned. We therefore are looking at 1 March 2016.
“Activities to go live on 1 February 2016 cover:
“The launch of an online Web Page, which will provide information on the LSP, outline the application process and inform prospective applicants when the online form will be ready for completion. It will also update applicants on appointment dates.
“Opening of a call centre. There will be 30 call centre agents taking calls from applicants and assisting with the process as well as requirements.
“Intensifying outreach programmes, especially targeted at prospective applicants, including the many Basotho nationals in domestic services.
“Maximising stakeholder-engagement, involving various organisations and bodies.
“Activities to go-live by 7 March 2016 include submission of online applications, and commencement of online appointments. The closing date for in-person applications will be 30 June 2016.”
According to the minister, the importance of the LSP could not be overemphasised.
“…Benefits abound for nationals of both countries. Among other things, undocumented migrants often face all manner of abusive and exploitive situations in the hands of unscrupulous local employers, and sometimes officials, the very rot we seek to uproot, with the help of the people. These include low wages, poor working conditions, a myriad of exploitative labour practices and human rights violations,” Mr Gigaba noted in last month’s statement.
“Applying for and getting a special permit opens doors to a fair deal for migrants who must provide goods for themselves and still cover expenses of those back home, including children and the elderly, like meeting families’ basic needs, paying school fees, transport and other costs.
“We are ready to deal with any challenges that may arise. There has been great excitement about the programme. It also enjoys the blessings and full support of our political principals. As I have said, LSP is indeed a stepping-stone for strengthening relations between our two countries.”