What is the change? South Africa will soon automate the process for obtaining South African police clearance certificates for temporary residence visa and permanent residence applications filed in country.

What does the change mean? Beginning Oct. 1, affected applicants will no longer need to go to a police station to apply for police clearance. Instead, visa facilitation centers will use the applicant’s fingerprints, which are already collected under the current process, to run background checks. The change should save applicants significant amounts of time when applying for visas or residence permits.

Implementation time frame: Oct. 1.

Visas/permits affected: Temporary residence visas and permanent residence permits.

  • Impact on processing times: The Department of Home Affairs said in a statement that the automated background checks will take 24 to 36 hours compared to the three to four months that DHA says it currently takes to get a police clearance certificate.
  • Business impact: The change should have a positive impact on businesses in South Africa, as people will have an easier time obtaining temporary residence visas and permanent residence permits.
  • Next steps: South Africa will make automated police clearance available Oct. 1 and will continue to accept manual police clearance submissions through Oct. 31. Beginning Nov. 1, the automated system will be the only option available.

Background: South African immigration regulations define police clearance certificates as: “A certificate issued by the police or security authority in each country where the relevant applicant resided for 12 months or longer after attaining the age of 18 years, in respect of criminal records or the character of that applicant, which certificate shall not be older than six months at the time of its submission: Provided that the certificate shall not be required from a foreign country in the case of renewal or extension of a visa but from the Republic.”

DHA announced the change Tuesday to an automated police clearance system, which is similar to those it already uses for Zimbabwean Special Permit and Lesotho Special Permit applications. Under the system, visa facilitation centers will use fingerprints to run background checks through the South African Police Services database. Once the results are obtained, the centers will send the results to DHA to be considered along with the rest of the application. Adults will be charged about 175 rand (about US$13) for the service.

Applicants should note that the automated service is only available for South African police clearance certificates for applications filed in South Africa. Those submitting applications outside of South Africa and in need of a police clearance from another country will need to provide a manual police clearance certificate.

BAL Analysis: The change is expected save significant amounts of time in the visa and residence permit application process. Affected applicants will be able to take advantage of the automated service beginning Oct. 1 and will not be permitted to provide manual submissions after Oct. 31.

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

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