It’s finally here, the new VFS offices for Immigration Applications for South Africa, and we are delighted. The new immigration rules came into effect on the 26th May 2014 and no doubt interested parties have noted some areas that can be described as at least challenging.
In the aftermath of this there have been claims they are unconstitutional and court action threatened.
At Intergate we prefer to get the whole story before casting our final judgement but there are areas that unless clarified soon could face a legal challenge.
These new rules and any dissatisfaction, should however not be confused with what we feel to be a step in the right direction with the application process. It is well documented how inefficient the DHA has been in respect of submitting applications, processing times and the delays in handing over the outcomes. Intergate successfully took the Department to court in 2012 on behalf of nearly 1000 clients and is in the process of launching a similar action now.
So any improvement on the DHA’s processes should be seen in good light.
Important note – The visa application centres are only for applications in South Africa, for those submitting abroad (for example all first time applicants) this facility is not yet available.
So what’s happened?
No longer will applications for permanent residence permits and temporary visas, made in South Africa, be submitted at the regional Departments of Home Affairs, nor will they provide for the collections of outcomes thereafter.
This role has now been outsourced to a 3rd party private company called VFS and applications will be made at their Visa Processing Centres.
Why would the Department now outsource this process?
For all of us who have experienced Department of Home Affairs offices, queues, lost applications, incorrect information, poor or no feedback etc etc this should come as somewhat of a relief.
We see two main reasons for this course of action:
- For us, this is an acceptance by the Department of years of failure to correct their inefficiencies. We have not seen much improvement and there was very little hope of improvement.
- Improvement costs money, money that the DHA simply did not have. By outsourcing it and allowing VFS to charge an additional fee they could secure private sector service levels at no cost.
The ‘deemed’ bad news
We touched on it above so lets get the so called bad news out of the way. There is an extra charge from the third party, VFS, for their services of handling applications, and of course paying more is never fun.
However, the R1350 payable to VFS for the handling of the application (charged in addition to the Department of Home Affairs fees) should bring with it a host of benefits. We will get to those later in the article but first lets look at these fees in more detail.
Lets start with the application fees
Firstly, we need to put the application fees into perspective. By this we mean assess the whole fees that are payable to the government and VFS. Let’s call it the total application fees.
Best case scenario will be R1800 payable and worse case scenario is R2570. So in pound terms from approx GBP 100 to GBP 150 GBP or Euro126 to Euro 190.
But how does this compare with other countries?
- New Zealand – a skilled migrant application will see you pay fees of at least NZ$ 2300, that’s over 1100 GBP and 1400 Euros.
- Australia – a skilled independent visa comes in at AUD 3520, some GBP 1900 and Euro 2400.
So put in perspective, South Africa looks extremely cheap by comparison. In fact on the above comparisons at least R15000, yes FIFTEEN THOUSAND RANDS cheaper to apply.
As said above no one likes to pay extra fees, but the reality is South Africa’s total application fees are superb value for money. If, of course we get what we get we pay for.
This brings us on nicely to the new Visa Application Centres and what the new application process will look like.
Who are VFS?
We quote their website:
“VFS Global is the world’s largest outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide. The company manages visa and passport issuance-related administrative and non-judgemental tasks for its client governments. With 1226 Visa Application Centres (VACs) and operations in 111 countries across five continents, VFS Global serves the interests of 45 client governments. The company has successfully processed over 79 million applications since its inception in 2001.”
At Intergate we believe their experience and credentials will lead to a big improvement from the current processes as supplied via the Department whose lack of efficiency is well documented. There are bound to be teething problems, but once overcome, we expect them to deliver an effective services that vastly improves on the ‘old model’ as run by the Department.
What will the visa application centre (VAC) do?
Preparing your application
The introduction of the Visa application centres (VACs) adds little value here simply because this is not their role. They will not provide applicants with advice as to permit eligibility, permit types or immigration. Their role is strictly the handling of the application and forwarding it to the Head Office of the Department of Home Affairs for processing.
In other words prospective immigrants have the same two choices they always have:
- Contract the services of an immigration company
- Research and handle their own application
- All applications will now be uploaded prior to visiting the Visa application centre
- These applications will be uploaded on line and can be then printed out for submission to the VAC
- The supporting documents need to be collected by the applicant and submitted together with the completed application form
What does need to be noted and is extremely important is the following statement on their website:
Important note: You will not be able to submit further documents once your application has been submitted at the Visa Facilitation Centre. The documents that you submitted at the time you made your application will be the only documents that are considered.
It is very important to keep this in mind as only complete applications will be accepted for processing – as before. However, the VAC will not check whether all supporting documents do meet the requirements of the Act.
What this means is no coming back to the applicant or their representative for clarification. A decision will be made on what you have submitted. If the application does not contain the correct information when forwarded from the visa application centre to head office for decision making, it will be rejected.
It is therefore of paramount importance that the correct advice is received as to the permit or visa type and the application prepared with the utmost diligence. Any errors will see rejections, further costs and delays.
Here is where we start to see the benefits and what we get for the extra fee.
They are a submission points for applications. It means for applications inside of South Africa (note this may expand to other jurisdictions) will no longer be submitted at the Department of Home Affairs.
- Applicants will now have to attend the VACs in person. This is the norm with most countries and brings South Africa in to line with international standards. Of course the addition to the process of biometrics means applicants must attend in person. Immigration companies, such as Intergate can still accompany clients.
- There will be 11 centres around South Africa so hopeful the majority of applicants will not have to travel too far
- Applicants and immigration companies can now look forward to a more inviting environment as well as improved security.
- There are no restrictions on immigration companies in terms of the number of applications they can make each day.
- Immigration companies can accompany their client
- Appointments are booked in advance
- Applications will only be accepted if an appointment has been booked, in other words “applicants can not just walk in and submit their applications on any given day”
- We should see an effective queuing system reducing waiting times
- As a private company VFS will want to process the application submission as quickly as possible. Simply put the more they process the more they earn.
- As applications will now be submitted on line prior to going to the centres, there will be reduction in the time required for submissions.
- There is the option of paying a higher fee to access the premium lounge.
- Biometrics will now be taken, meaning better control and accountability.
- Appointments can also be made for appeals, waivers and exemptions.
Following up on applications
An area of extreme frustration for immigration companies and applicants and something the DHA was notoriously bad at.
- There will be an online tracking system in place so we can view the progress of applications
- There will also be an SMS service that will alert us as to the stage of the application process
In short a vast improvement!
It is important to remember VFS are not the decision maker with regards to permit and visa applications. This is still the remit of the Department and will continue to be. Therefore whilst the application is expected to be much quicker, the decision making process is down to the efficiencies of the Department.
The VFS website states that the Department aims to process the decision making in 4 – 6 weeks for 90% of applications. It further states there is no guarantee to this and neither can it guarantee the return of a decision within a certain time frame.
Not particularly welcome news as it it moves away from their previously published time frames therefore reducing their accountability.
That said, hopefully as they are now focusing purely on decision making, this will be reflected with better turnaround times.
The confirmed good news here as that applicants do not have to return to the visa application centre to collect their decision. This can be done by their appointed representative (immigration company).
As with most government departments, no matter how ineffective, holding the Department to a level of accountability sometimes seemed impossible without court action.
VFS is a commercial organisation that relies on its ongoing good reputation to retain and attract clients. As its business is focused on the sensitive areas of visa’s and permits it cannot afford to be on the receiving end of bad press.
We welcome the visa application centres, hope any teething problems are swiftly solved and look forward to our clients immigration journey being a far smoother process going forward.
Intergate Immigration is South Africa’s largest independent immigration company with a skilled team of in excess of 30 individuals. Since 2005 we have assisted thousands of individuals and hundreds of companies with their immigration needs.
For a free and non obligatory consultation on your immigration needs please contact us here, or telephone us on:
+27 (0) 21 424 2460 (Cape Town)
+27 (0) 11 234 4275 (Johannesburg)
+44 (0) 203 764 0889 (England)
+49 (0) 692 573 77336 (Germany)
+31 (0) 207 989 129 (Netherlands)