What is the change? The Department of Home Affairs announced today that authorities will begin accepting applications for new Zimbabwean Exemption Permits beginning Sept. 15.

What does the change mean? Zimbabwean Exemption Permits will replace Zimbabwean Special Permits and will allow holders to work, study or conduct business in South Africa for up to four years. Applicants must hold a valid Zimbabwean passport and a Zimbabwean Special Permit to be eligible for the new permits, and will be given an appointment date to provide biometrics and supporting documentation after submitting an application online.

  • Implementation time frame: Applications will be accepted from Sept. 15 until Nov. 30.
  • Visas/permits affected: Zimbabwean Special Permits.
  • Who is affected: Zimbabwean Special Permit holders who want to remain in South Africa to work, study or conduct business.
  • Next steps: Applicants must submit an application online through VFS Global. They will then be given an appointment at the appropriate VFS Global office to provide fingerprints and supporting documentation. The permits will be valid from Jan. 1, 2018 through Dec. 31, 2021, regardless of the date on which they are issued.

Background: The program for Zimbabwean nationals dates to 2009, when the South African government granted “special dispensation” for Zimbabweans who were in the country illegally, many of them having had fled violence and instability in Zimbabwe. The South African government replaced Special Dispensation for Zimbabweans with Zimbabwean Special Permits in 2014, opening the application process to Zimbabweans with valid passports, proof of employment or study, and a clear criminal record. Permits issued at that time are set to expire at the end of the year. The Cabinet said Aug. 1 that it would open a reapplication period.

Home Affairs Minister Hlengiwe Buhle Mkhize said Friday that the new Zimbabwean Exemption Permit program will open Sept. 15. Applicants will be charged a fee of 1090 rand (about US$85) and will be required to provide evidence of employment, enrollment in school or business operations, depending on what type of permit they are seeking. The permits are not renewable or extendable and cannot be used to apply for permanent residence. Permit holders will also not be allowed to change the conditions of their permit while in South Africa. Those who apply for new permits will be able to travel internationally with their application receipt and their old Zimbabwean Special Permit until their new permit is issued.

BAL Analysis: The announcement that South Africa will extend its special program for Zimbabwean nationals surely eases anxieties for tens of thousands of Zimbabweans holding special permits and hoping to remain in South Africa. But while the new program will provide authorization to work, study or conduct business in South Africa for an additional four years, authorities made it clear that newly issued permits cannot be extended and cannot be used to apply for permanent residency.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group. For additional information, please contact your BAL attorney.

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