Answer to a question from a reader

Why am I only being granted six-month permits to stay in South Africa and why am I not being granted citizenship?

The short answer

It's complicated, but there are things you could try

The whole question

I have a couple of questions regarding getting South African citizenship, here is my back story on my life:

I was brought into South Africa by my mother when I was 10 years old from Zimbabwe in the year 2000/2001 and I am turning 27 this year, so I have been residing in South Africa for my teen and adult life, when we arrived in South Africa my mother applied for refuge-ship and she was granted in 2005/2006 and as kids we have been under her file for all my South African live hood, whenever we would go to Home Affairs to renew our refugee papers we where given either 2 years or 4 years permit, she applied for permanent residence and we never heard from Home Affairs regarding the issue, when my mothers parents passed away in 2010 she traveled back to Zimbabwe to bury them as she is the only child. Home affairs found out about this and they charged her and made her pay a fine for that but now they are giving us 6 months refugee permits.

My questions are:

1 - Is it possible that we as her kids are getting punished for what she did back in 2010?
2- Home Affairs said they would open different files for us when we turn 18 years old but nothing has been done yet will this affect me getting my citizenship?
3- How can I apply for citizenship with the history I have never left South Africa from the age of 10 years old?
4- Do I need to seek legal help for me to start the process of applying for citizenship as an individual?

The long answer

Thank you for your email asking about applying for citizenship as the 27-year-old child of a registered refugee who has never left South Africa since arriving with your mother at the age of 10.

To answer your first question as to whether Home Affairs is punishing you by only issuing permits for six months at a time instead of the two to four years they used to give: it may be that they are punishing your mother for returning to Zimbabwe to bury her parents in 2010, for which she was fined, but I think it is more likely that they are issuing everybody with much shorter permits than they used to, as a way of discouraging people from settling in South Africa.

Your second question about whether Home Affair’s failure to open separate files for you and your sister after you turned 18 could affect your application for citizenship: given that your mother is still recognized as a refugee and that you and your sister are still listed on her file, it should not make too much difference. But nothing is ever clear with Home Affairs, so this is one of the issues you should discuss with the organisations that I will list at the end of this email. 

Your third question about how to apply for citizenship given that you have not left South Africa since you came with your mother when you were 10: you can only apply for citizenship through naturalisation if you have had a permanent residence permit in South Africa for at least five years. You would need to apply for permanent residence through Section 27 (Residency-on-Other-Grounds Permits) of the Immigration Act 2002. One of these “other grounds” is that you qualify as a refugee in terms of Section 27(c) of the Refugees Act.

Home Affairs says: “In order to make an application for a permanent residency permit, applicants must first submit a representation to the Minister of Home Affairs motivating why he or she should be declared not to be a prohibited person or an undesirable person.  Once you have received a positive response from the Minister of Home Affairs, you may submit an application for a Residency-on-Other-Grounds Permit.”

Home Affairs goes on to say that besides completing and submitting Form BI-947, you must also provide the following documentation:

A full set of fingerprints.
A valid refugee status for temporary sojourn at the time of application  
Write an application letter explaining the reasons for applying for the certification
Go to the initial refugee reception office where application for asylum was first lodged and complete the form. The Refugee  Reception Office will ensure that the applicant complies with all the requirements.
The application will be referred to the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs which is the body established to certify or not if the applicant will remain a refugee indefinitely. (This is an independent body which must function without bias or prejudice. Groundup.)
If successful, the applicant will then be issued with a “Certification” or Section 27© which will enable the applicant to apply at any Home Affairs office for an “Immigration Permit” or “Permanent Residence”.

You have to have this section 27 certification to be allowed to apply for permanent residence.

The Refugee Law Pro bono Handbook notes that when Home Affairs decides whether or not to grant Permanent Residency Permits, they want people whom they think will be able to make a “meaningful contribution to broadening the economic base of South Africa.”

You make the application online to Home Affairs via

According to the Home Affairs website, this is what you need:

VFS appointment letter.
A duly completed DHA-947 form online. Handwritten forms will not be accepted by the Department of Home Affairs.
Payment of the application fee of R1350. If the application fee was paid to VFS bank account or the mission, an original bank payment receipt, where the application fee was paid using the Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT), receipt for each applicant.
A recent, passport-type, full face photograph bearing the names of the applicants on the reverse side thereof. (Machine-type or instant photographs are not acceptable).
A valid refugee status for temporary sojourn at the time of application in respect of each applicant, if the application is made in the Republic.
Unabridged birth certificate, or extract from birth record for applicant(s), if applicable.
South African police clearance will be validated upon biometric enrolment at the VFS centre effective as of 01 October 2016 at a fee of R175 (Inclusive of Vat) Per Applicant
Radiological report (X-RAY). The certificate must not be older than six (6) months at the time the applicant submits an application.
Medical report for all applicants. The certificate must not be older than six (6) months at the time the applicant submits an application.
Proof of five years continuous refugee status in the Republic.
Certification from the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs that applicant will remain a refugee indefinitely.
Present yourself for biometrics at the visa facilitation centre. Biometric enrolment fee applicable. (R175).

The pro bono handbook also notes that “...even if a refugee has successfully been certified for permanent residency by the SCRA, permanent residency applications for refugees are rarely successful.”

So it’s a difficult business all round and you could ask advice from the organisations listed below that have experience in dealing with Home Affairs.  

Lawyers for Human Rights at: Musina 0115 534 2203, Durban 031 301 0531, Pretoria 012 320 2943, Johannesburg 011 339 1960. Their Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme (RMRP) is based in Johannesburg

Legal Resources Centre at in Johannesburg at 011 836 9831 and Cape Town at 021 481 3000.

Answered on Dec. 12, 2019, 11:16 a.m.

See more questions and answers

Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.