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SA residency applications reopen after a 22-month break – but don’t expect approval before 2025

Image by Fani Mahuntsi

  • South Africa's department of home affairs reopened applications for permanent residency permits in January.

  • This, after abruptly suspending all new applications at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, to deal with a backlog built over the past decade.

  • But the department didn't make a dent in the backlog and the Immigration Practitioners of South Africa believes that outstanding applications exceed 50,000.

  • Foreigners who were eligible to become permanent residents when the suspension was first imposed are likely to endure a 5-year wait.

  • Article Published: by Luke Daniel, Business Insider SA - BusinessInsider.co.za

Foreigners looking to become permanent residents in South Africa have been barred from applying since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. This suspension was lifted in January, but a burgeoning backlog of applications spells a long wait for immigrants.

The backlog of permanent residency permit (PRP) applications at South Africa's department of home affairs is nothing new. For the past decade, processing times have remained frustratingly high. The department's delays have been successfully challenged in court, with a 2019 ruling being especially critical of the "institutional dysfunction" at home affairs.

Then, in March 2020, as South Africa entered a coronavirus-induced state of disaster, the department of home affairs abruptly suspended PRP applications. This, the department said, would allow it to clear the outstanding backlog of some 10,000 outstanding permanent residence applications.

But the Forum of Immigration Practitioners of South Africa (FIPSA) estimated the backlog to be in the region of 30,000 and argued that clearing this, while not accepting any new applications, would take far too long.

Prior to the pandemic, PRP applications were generally resolved within two to three years, as a conservative estimate. The only applications which were prioritised and processed sooner – generally within a year – included those submitted on grounds of business and critical skills.

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 flurry of submissions, adding further immediate pressure on the department of home affairs. This means that a foreign national, who was eligible, but couldn't apply, for their PRP during the 22-month suspension, could likely endure a five-year wait to be approved as a permanent resident.

These delayed applications, if submitted in January, could only be successfully processed in 2025. That's according to pre-pandemic wait times. If, as Krensel says, the initial backlog has shown little signs of improvement, these processing times could even 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."