SA families affected by new immigration law

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South African families employing child minders who are foreign citizens need to take note of strict new immigration laws, which have caused an outcry around the country and have even led to court cases against the Department of Home Affairs.

Thousands of South Africans who are employing foreign nannies may be unaware of the fact that due to new immigration laws, which came into place in May 2014, their child minder or domestic help may be in the country illegally and face deportation – wreaking havoc in households and disrupting the lives of not only the domestic nanny – but family members as well.

According to Super Nannies founder and marketing director, Karin Thomsen, numerous worried parents and concerned nannies have called her for information about work permits and legal documentation. Although none of their nannies have been deported, a few are facing uncertain futures and have had prospective jobs put on hold while their paperwork is being investigated to ensure they have valid work permits.

“There is one family that we have been dealing with where there are three children, one of whom has Down’s Syndrome and now there may be a problem with the nanny’s work permit. This is obviously a cause of concern for the family,” says Thomsen, who helped found Super Nannies in 2009.

The company places domestic nannies into private homes with families in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. Of their 285 current childcare candidates, 58% are South African, 37% are Zimbabwean and 5% are of other nationalities.

“The majority of our foreign nannies are Zimbabwean but there are also a few from Malawi,” says Thomsen. She says Zimbabwean nannies are especially popular with South African families as they are well-educated, presentable and speak excellent English.

“It is a big and complex topic,” explains Julia Willand, immigration expert and lawyer. She is founder and co-director of Immigration Consulting South Africa (Imcosa), an agency specialising in visa applications and immigration services. “Immigration is a delicate balance between attracting investment and skills on the one side, and protecting the local labour market and the country from syndicated crime on the other. With SA’s massive unemployment figures, the question of who to allow into the country is a political hot potato as well.”

She says the recent changes to the immigration law are the result of government becoming more security focused. “Domestic workers, even before the changes, have never easily been able to get work permits. Asylum seekers have it a bit easier as they have an automatic right to work. But if asylum seeker permits are temporary, people usually have to go back every one, three or six months to renew the permit, depending on how long it was issued for.”

Conditions for Zimbabwe are slightly different as many Zimbabweans in South Africa have been able to get a dispensation visa. According to a recent announcement by Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, all Zimbabwean dispensation permits will become invalid after 31 December 2014 – regardless of how long they were issued for. South African authorities have made provision for dispensation holders to apply for new permits from 1 October 2014. But people who do not do that will find themselves in trouble with the law and face possible deportation. This does, however, not apply to those who are in South Africa as asylum seekers or refugees.

Willand says if South Africans employ foreign citizens, they need to make the effort to educate themselves on the new rules as they are unlikely to change. While court cases on specific issues in the act may succeed, the overall law seems set to remain.

“Many people say foreigners are more reliable and this is symptom of migration. Migrating workers tend to be more proactive when it comes to looking for work. They come with degrees and good education, driven by a lack of jobs in their own countries. So they typically provide a better service. But we need to do our part too,” warns Willand. “We all have to carry our share of upskilling South Africans, to help work towards our future and make up for our past.”
Thomsen agrees and says Super Nannies believes strongly in educating South African nannies and improving their professional skills through a range of first aid, child safety and child care courses.

But she is also concerned about the non-South African nannies working for Super Nannies. “The problem comes when people are unaware of changes in immigration legislation,” says Thomsen. “Domestic workers and nannies don’t know where to go and even South Africans are unclear about the immigration law and what it stipulates precisely.”

Willand advises, “The Home Affairs website contains quite a bit of information about the new immigration laws, although it is not always updated in all detail. People should ask experts to find out exactly how the new immigration laws affect them – for themselves, their families and their nannies.”

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