Home Affairs Minister Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize. Picture: SUPPLIED
Home Affairs Minister Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize. Picture: SUPPLIED

Home Affairs Minister Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize has two immediate tasks to attend to in her new portfolio: making it easier for skilled migrants and investors to get through the system, and clearing the huge backlogs in processing asylum seeker and refugee applications.

The Department of Home Affairs insists it has taken considerable strides in making it easier for business travellers and skilled migrants to enter SA. But, on the other side of the same coin, refugees and asylum seekers face an uphill battle when dealing with home affairs.

Mkhize says her department, which has released a white paper on international migration and the Refugees Amendment Bill, will not stray from the Constitution when dealing with asylum seekers.

In the bill, home affairs proposes the establishment of processing centres for asylum seekers at SA’s borders and ports of entry — a marked departure from the country’s current policy.

Migration groups have raised alarm about the controversial proposal, saying it amounts to setting up camps, which is out of step with SA’s long-standing policy on refugees and asylum seekers.

Mkhize says she will stick to the spirit and letter of predecessor Malusi Gigaba’s stance. But Gigaba’s tenure at home affairs, especially towards its end, became increasingly underscored by an inward-looking and protectionist approach in its handling of migration.

The new minister told Business Day in an interview that the department would sharpen its efforts aimed at attracting skilled migrants to help rescue the economy, which is stuck in a low-growth trap and is contending with high unemployment.

This is in line with the objectives of the National Development Plan, which identifies skilled migrants as critical to ensuring that SA shores up its struggling economy, which has a shortage of skills.

Her priority is to accelerate the rate at which applications by highly skilled migrants and investors are processed.

Critically skilled migrants are also allowed to sojourn for 12 months prior to securing employment to determine whether they will be interested in working and staying in the republic on a longer term
Malusi Gigaba

To this end, the Department of Home Affairs will train its officials at its college and use the sector education and training authorities (Setas).

"The department has a college, which was initially unable to take off. In some areas, officials [will] benefit from the Setas in upgrading their skills.

"When it comes to our college, we need to find experts who will interact with officials to develop professional standards through an accredited module," says Mkhize. She wants to synchronise these efforts with the Department of Trade and Industry’s "one-stop shop" for investors looking to travel to the country for business and investment reasons.

Before leaving to assume his position as minister of finance, Gigaba told Parliament in a written response that home affairs had finalised 84.7% of critical skills applications in four days to a month.

"Critically skilled migrants are also allowed to sojourn for 12 months prior to securing employment to determine whether they will be interested in working and staying in the republic on a longer term," Gigaba wrote in a response to a written question in Parliament.

When it comes to refugees and asylum seekers, Mkhize says that the proposed processing centres will not undermine refugees and asylum seekers’ rights. Instead, she says, these centres will serve to protect refugees and asylum seekers’ rights once they are allowed into SA.

"If you throw people into communities before they are sorted out, their risks are higher. Their rights are given but not protected. Their children’s rights to education are even in jeopardy. People must be given critical information and ongoing learning," she said.

Roshan Dadoo, of the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in SA, says: "We feel the white paper and the bill imply that people will be detained, because they cannot leave until their applications have been determined."

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