As the much anticipated announcement was made on Friday the 8th of September , one could not help but feel the sense of relief that came with it. The ZSP is being renewed and shall be called the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit or ZEP. The online platform opened on Friday the 15th for applications to renew the permit. The permit will be valid for a further 4 years and applicants will be exempt from undesirable declarations should they travel before their applications are finalised. From its description one can immediately see that the ZEP and the ZSP are exactly the same with the only change being that no one is being asked to have a clear police record when applying. Whether this will be an issue on adjudication remains to be seen.
Perhaps the most important announcement was not the renewal of the ZSP but rather the message embedded within the announcement.
The Minister stated, ” ZSP permit holders who wish to convert their status to any other mainstream visa should apply timeously for such visa from within SA provided they meet all the requirements for that visa.”
Much speculation has been made around this statement. What does this mean, practically? Can one apply for a mainstream visa now or should one apply for the ZEP and then later change to the Mainstream visa? Will it be possible to change from the ZEP?
To answer these questions one would have to look at the Minister`s message as a whole, having regard to the historical background of the dispensation permit. I also must emphasize that I do not speak for the Minister neither can I say what she meant to say. These are my views formulated from the knowledge of Immigration Law and the experience of working with the Department of Home Affairs. Now that’s out of the way…
I do not believe that once you apply for the ZEP one can later move to the mainstream visa regime. Reason being the ZEP and ZSP are exactly the same and, the requirements and conditions are also identical. Therefore, it stands to reason that the same challenges experienced under the ZSP will be experienced under the ZEP. This is likely to be the case but unlike in 2014 the conditions of the ZSP caught everyone by surprise. The manner in which the ZEP is being rolled out suggests proper planning and hence no one will be blindsided by the restrictive conditions and no one can claim not to have been warned that the ZEP will not lead to any permanent residence status in future or that no change can be made from the ZEP. Though the absence of a restriction of a change of status may be compelling the same situation prevailed under the ZSP.
So in conclusion, do I think it’s wise to first renew the ZEP and then apply for the mainstream ? I do not think so. The best would be to apply for the main steam visa and then see how it goes. If a positive decision is forthcoming before November 30th then your problems are solved. If not then you still have the option of being locked into the ZEP.
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