Pretoria - Foreign nationals living in South Africa will find the process of obtaining a study, work or business permit much easier in the coming months.
The Department of Home Affairs has announced it has centralised the issuing of permits, which will help to ease the backlog of 13 000 applications. Permits will now be issued from its headquarters in Pretoria.
In the past, permits were applied for at the department's regional offices across the country. These applications were then sent to the headquarters for adjudication and ratification, resulting in a huge backlog in the issuing process.
The backlogs had a negative impact on the operation of businesses that wanted to bring to South Africa skilled workers from abroad and created hardships for those who apply annually for their work permits to be re-issued.
As a result, the country was losing out on critical skills that had the potential to contribute to the growth of the economy.
The situation was no better for foreign students who, because of the delays in receiving their study permits, lost their spots at academic institutions, Apleni said.
"This is totally unacceptable and has become unbearable for business, students and foreign workers and requires urgent action to facilitate movement for such persons into our country to contribute meaningfully to the development of our country," Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said.
The minister also wants the permits to be valid for three to five years, doing away with the need for annual applications for permits to be re-issued.
To achieve this, the department was looking into introducing changes to the current standard operating procedures.
He stressed that these measures, with regards to the permits, did not apply to Zimbabwean nationals, who were required to regularise their stay in South Africa following a Cabinet decision.
So far, the department had received 73 407 applications from Zimbabweans wanting to regularise their stay in the country.
Apleni said 20 966 of these applications had been approved, 5 486 rejected, with the rest awaiting adjudication.
The deadline to document all illegal Zimbabweans by 31 December 2010 had not changed, he added.