Zimbabwean Exemption Permits: Update

On 27 June 2023, the Pretoria High Court handed down a judgement declaring the decision of the Minister of Home Affairs, which terminated the Zimbabwean Exemption Permits (ZEPs), as unlawful, unconstitutional and invalid.

The ZEP program, as per the court order, was consequently extended for 12 months, until end of June 2024, during which period the Minister must conclude a fair process and thereafter make a further decision on the fate of the ZEPs.

The Minister applied for leave to appeal said judgement, which, if granted, will automatically suspend the initial order, and by implication, the extension of the ZEP validity. Application for leave to appeal was heard on 18 September 2023, but judgement was reserved.

In the interim, in order to preserve the protection the Court granted to the permit-holders in the initial order, and effectively safeguard their lawful right to remain in the country pending the appeal outcome, the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) asked the Minister to agree that the extended expiry date of the ZEPs will not run out during the appeal process.

The Minister refused the above requested guarantee, and HSF accordingly applied to the Court for such an order. This matter has not yet been heard by Court, and the Minister confirmed that he will be opposing this application, which seems extremely malicious.

If leave to appeal is granted, and the initial court order suspended, ZEP holders will be considered illegal immigrants from 1 January 2024 if they have not applied for alternative visas, as this was the last date of expiry of the permits as determined by the Minister, prior to the judgement.

If a ZEP holder has applied for an alternative visa and they are still awaiting the outcome of their application, they may not be deported or arrested for not having a valid exemption permit. ZEP holders who have applied for alternative visas are advised to keep their proof of application at hand, should they be confronted by any official from the South African Police Service, the Department of Home Affairs, or the Department of Labour.

The reason NEASA so closely monitors and reports on this matter, is due to our principles of justice and righteousness. Many of our member employers employ Zimbabwean nationals with ZEP permits. These are hardworking employees who are attempting to contribute to society and the country they live in, in a lawful and legal manner. Our stance in this matter in no manner finds the nationality of any person to be of relevance. Every person willing to work and abide by South Africa’s laws, deserves the protection from those same laws, regardless of their nationality.

The best route for any ZEP holder, or any foreign national employee for that matter, regardless of their current type of permit, is to consult with an immigration specialist, in order to determine which permit or visa is most suitable.

To read NEASA’s newsletter on the relevant alternative visas, click here.

Although NEASA assists employers in need of assistance with their incapacity procedures for all ZEP holder employees, who cannot obtain any of the alternative mainstream visas, NEASA does not process applications for visas and/or permits.