What is the change? Responding to complaints by 18 foreign residents, South Africa’s public prosecutor has issued a damning report on the processing of naturalization applications by the Department of Home Affairs. The foreign residents had complained that their applications for South African citizenship were delayed, denied or improperly adjudicated.

What does the change mean? Among the remedial actions the prosecutor ordered, the DHA must review its internal guidance relating to naturalization regulations, including the DHA’s practice of requiring 10 years of residency for eligibility in contradiction to the Citizenship Act’s five-year requirement. In addition, the DHA must also externally publish standard operating procedures within six months that must include expected naturalization application processing times.

Background: The complaints were brought between 2014 and 2017 by 18 foreign residents who applied for naturalization. Some of the applications were rejected as being premature based on the 10-year eligibility period applied by the DHA, even though the Citizenship Act allows foreign residents to apply for citizenship after five years of residency. The prosecutor found that 10 of the complainants should have been eligible under the Citizenship Act. Others complained that the DHA had delayed processing their applications for longer than 12 months. The prosecutor found that eight of the applicants waited 13 to 24 months for a decision while the other 10 applications were pending for 13 to 24 months and had still not received a decision.

BAL Analysis: In addition to addressing the 18 specific cases, the DHA is required to review how it applies the naturalization regulations and reconcile the eligibility period with the Citizenship Act’s five-year eligibility period. As a result, a far greater number of foreign nationals should be eligible to apply for South African citizenship than previously. In addition, it is hoped that the recommendations in the report will bring greater transparency and consistency in the processing of naturalization applications, including a standard processing timeframe.

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