Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

The department of home affairs has recommended the extension of the contract of its front-end visa handling operator until it is ready to launch a public-private partnership with a new service provider to undertake the work.

The contract with VFS Global expires at the end of December but home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi told parliament’s home affairs committee on Tuesday that this was not enough time to finalise the public-private partnership, especially given the constraints imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.

If the contract with VFS were to be terminated, the visa system and tourism would collapse, the minister warned. VFS handles the visa application process while the department makes the decisions and issues the visas. Motsoaledi stressed that the department did not have the capacity to handle the entire visa issuing process on its own.

VFS has been handling visa applications on behalf of the department since 2010. The contract was extended for two years in December 2018.

The department’s acting director-general Jackie McKay said the extension was intended “to protect the department against operational disruptions at a time when there is substantial uncertainty and global risk that Covid-19 has imposed on international travel, investment and migratory movement in general”.

An extension of the VFS contract would allow for a continuity of operations while the department proceeded with its public-private partnership process and the introduction of an e-visa system, he said.

An extension would also allow for a smooth handover to the new service provider which would not be possible in the six months remaining before the VFS contract expires.

McKay noted that the process would take between 24 and 36 months.