So Are You a Citizen Now? – What Does It Actually Mean When a Foreigner Marries a South African

by biltong101

south-africaSince I got married people have been saying weird things to me like: “So, you’re a citizen now, right?” or “At least they can’t kick you out now!” (whatever the f**k that means). I can’t help but to think that there is a giant misconception about the rights of foreigners married to South Africans. South Africa is quite protective of its citizens so handing out citizenships or even permanent residencies to anyone who married a South African isn’t something that would be in alignment with the country’s policy. Any foreigner, including a spouse, can also get deported or banned.

When you marry a South African you have four legal visa options. You can just be an accompanying spouse and not be allowed to work, you can get the spousal visa with a condition to work for a specific company (you need a contract to apply for it), to study or to have your own business. Every time your circumstances change you need to apply for a new visa. Even though such an alteration is referred to as a “change of conditions”, you need to resubmit all the documents every time. They include among others, police clearances from all the countries you’ve lived for over a year after the age of 18, medical report and a radiological report stating you don’t have TB. It takes around 2 months to compile the documents. The South African police clearance is usually the longest wait, but they are getting better. For instance last time I only waited a week as opposed to eight weeks for my application before that. Once the visa application is submitted, an applicant has to wait 3-4 months to have it processed. This may seem long but it’s nothing in comparison to how long people used to wait.

The whole process takes quite a bit of time which as you imagine can be frustrating. Of course it disadvantages spouses on the labour market as very few employees want to wait for so long. Even if they do, the applicants often deal with missed income. If they quit their old job and get a new one, they will have to wait quite a bit for their next payslip. This leads me to my next point which is the cost of the whole process. Just to organize the documents for the application is pricey. Between medical reports, Xrays, police clearances, courier services and translations, you can easily spend a few grand. Technically spouses are exempt from paying for the visa itself but since obligatory visa facilitation centers were introduced we have been paying R1500 for their service. There’s also a question of submitting your application with or without an immigration agency. Such private companies are there to make sure that you’re submitting everything that’s necessary. Even though, in theory, all the requirements are listed on the VFS website, in practice rejections happen much more often to the applicants submitting on their own. The cost of such help is around 10 thousand rand. This is just an option but even if you only do the necessary, it’s a costly business not everyone can afford. What’s more, to get a visa the family has to meet the requirement of the monthly income of R8500 per person. A lot of people in South Africa live for way less than that. I guess the suggestion of this discriminatory rule is not to fall in love with a foreigner if you don’t have money… One should not be surprised that people left without a choice, end up staying in the country without visas.

Once you receive a spousal visa life isn’t just unicorns and roses either. As it is referred to as a visitor’s visa numerous institutions will question your rights to get things sorted. I’ve had problems with banks, telecommunications service providers and the traffic department. The thinking behind it is: why does a visitor need things such as a bank account, driver’s license or a phone contract? You live, you learn and sooner or later one has these things sorted somehow but I don’t see why life of a spouse who has the legal right to be with their better half, should be so difficult and nerve-racking. Some service providers are better than others but they still obsess about the validity of your visa, even though you can renew it. You’re also not allowed to apply for a new one more than 6 months before the expiry date, so things can be a bit tough for you, if you happen to need a new phone contract in that time period.

Last but not least, let me discuss two things I’ve heard repeatedly:

  • So are you a citizen now?
  • No, one has to be married to a South African for 5 years to be able to apply for permanent residency (PR). The application for PR can take up to 24 months. After one receives a PR, he or she needs to remain a permanent citizen for 10 years in order to be able to apply for a citizenship. After the application is submitted there’s a similar waiting period as in the case of permanent residency. This means I may potentially become a citizen in more or less 5 + 2 + 10 + 2 – 1 (that’s how long we’ve been married!) = 18 years!
  • At least they can’t kick you out now!
  • Yes, they can. Violation of terms stipulated on the permit or a visa overstay are grounds for deportation. The most common case is a spouse who applies for a visa before her visa expires but doesn’t receive a new one in time. It’s okay for her to stay in the country but not to travel as officially she’s an overstayer. If she travels, she will be banned from returning to the country for 1 year (an overstay of less than 30 days) or 5 years (an overstay of more than 30 days). Now, of course you can fight the ban and have it overturned if the grounds were unjust. At the same time, it costs you, yet again, a lot of money and stress.

I hope that some of you will find this article helpful and informative and I’m for one very happy that from now on I’ll have a link to give to people, instead of starting to rage.

Dear Reader, a spouse or not, you’re more than welcome to pour your frustrations about the South African immigration policies in the comments section! Or maybe you have bad experiences from a different country?