South African authorities investigating fraudulent permit issuance within the country’s immigration system and missions abroad, have found over 45,00 cases of fraudulent permit and visa issuance at home and in missions abroad, including in Ghana.
While the investigations are still ongoing, one South African High Commission official in Ghana has been suspended. Two others in the China mission have also been suspended. The suspension of the Ghana official was what began another line of fraud in which the passports of Ghanaian visa applicants were collected and held hostage for months by the South African High Commission in Ghana.
In a report to the Portfolio Committee on Department of Home Affairs in the South African Parliament prepared in June and presented in August this year, it said in the matter of the Ghana mission involving issuance of fraudulent visas and permits, one official has been suspended, charged and is currently undergoing a disciplinary hearing. A referral has also been made to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI). The DPCI also known as the ‘Hawks’ is an independent directorate within the South African Police Service and is responsible for the combating, investigation and prevention of national priority crimes such as serious organized crime, serious commercial crime and serious corruption in terms of Section 17B and 17D of the South African Police Service Act, 1995 as amended.
In the China mission, two officials have been suspended. Precautionary Suspension Letters have been issued on June 6, 2023 in matters related to irregular issuance of visas. Both members’ foreign deployment has also come to an end, it said.
The report indicated also that a Charge Sheet in respect of one official has been served and notice of disciplinary proceedings against one official was served; while disciplinary proceedings in respect of one official commenced August 8, 2023.
The Multi-disciplinary Task Team (MDTT) conducting the investigation has discovered 45,000 fraudulent visas were issued between 2014 and June 2021, both within and outside the country, and they include residence and work permits.
During the presentation of the report to the Committee in Parliament, the investigators said there were swoops on the mission in Ghana and the one in China after officials were caught irregularly issuing visas.
Home Affairs Minister, Aaron Motsoaledi has told media in South Africa that the missions abroad are issuing fraudulent visas including issuing ‘retirement visas to a 25-year-old’. He noted also that some of the missions are issuing questionable study visas.
In their report to the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs of the South African Parliament, investigators said they found thousands of permanent residence permits, corporate/business visas, critical skills visas, study visas, retired persons’ visas and citizenship by naturalisations were issued irregularly.
The report also indicated that, 36,647 foreign nationals had false documentation in their applications, but 880 were approved. Of the applicants, 4,160 linked to the fraudulent applications were successful in a later application.
Some of the officials leading the investigations are Cassius Lubisi, the former director-general in the Presidency, who chairs the MDTT that was established to review all permits issued since 2004 – the year in which South Africa Immigration Amendment Act came into operation.
Forensic investigator Peter Bishop, who is part of the task team, was reported saying fraudulent issuance of visas and permits was uncovered at the Ghana mission in Accra where an official has been suspended and charged.
“One official has been suspended and charged, and is undergoing a disciplinary hearing, which will sit again on 15 August 2023. A referral has also been made to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation [the Hawks] in this matter,” Bishop told the parliamentary committee.
He also said two other officials were suspended at the mission in China.
“Precautionary suspension letters were issued on June 6, 2023 in matters related to irregular issuance of visas. Both members’ foreign deployment has also come to an end. A draft charge sheet [has] been prepared and [a] charge sheet in respect of one official served, and notice of disciplinary proceedings against [the other official] was served. Disciplinary proceedings in respect of one official commenced on August 8, 2023,” he added.
Lubisi in his report to Parliament said the retired persons visa and permits were often used as a ruse to enter South Africa, after which a work visa was applied for or the person got married. A total of 79 per cent of applicants applied for a retirement visa before the age of 55 and 53 per cent of these were eventually approved. In 2018, 65 per cent of approved retirement visas were for applicants 55 years or younger. People younger than 25 years had also had their retirement visas approved.
Naturalisation was granted before the required five-year period of permanent residency. Some people were being naturalised even before they received their permanent residence permit, which was against the law.
About 61 South African diplomatic officials have been identified and referred to undergo disciplinary processes by the investigators. Eleven officials were already undergoing disciplinary hearings.
In July 2019 South Africa announced a visa-free regime with some countries, including Ghana. The agreement between Ghana and South Africa comes into force on November 1, 2023, and citizens of both countries would not require visas for visits lasting 90 days in a year to either country. But in the last couple of months, some Ghanaians who have applied for visa to South Africa have not been hearing favourably from the High Commission in Accra.
There is often no information from the High Commission and the third-party visa processing company, VFS. When applicants follow up to enquire, they are mostly being asked if they would like to withdraw their applications as they are made to wait for longer than the six to 10 working days processing time.
Some applicants have received their passports long past their travel due dates, but without visas, and no explanations are being given. Meanwhile VFS and the mission in Accra are charging their usual processing fees.
Ghana Business News reached out to the Department of Home Affairs. An official promised to give us their side of the story, but we haven’t heard from them as at the time of publishing this story. If we hear from the Department, we will incorporate their comments.