25 March 2020 by Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr Updated | COVID-19: The Employment Survival Guide

C is for closing borders and COVID-19, but sometimes also concessions

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in late 2019, over 215 000 people have been diagnosed with the illness and over 10 000 confirmed people have died at the time of penning this article.

On 15 March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa, while giving a national address on national television, stated that there would be strict temporary measures to restrict the inflow of foreign nationals into the country as a result of the Coronavirus and its threat to the general populace. The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation have since then acted accordingly. Hence a temporary travel ban has been issued to be implemented from 18 March 2020, which bans all entry regardless of the visa status of all foreign travellers emanating from Italy, Iran, the Republic of Korea, Spain, France, the Swiss Federation, the USA and China. Any foreign national no matter place of origin who had visited any of the mentioned above high-risk countries in the past 20 days would be denied visa and presumably denied entry into South Africa whilst travellers from medium risk countries such as Portugal, Hong Kong and Singapore will have to undergo high intensity screening. Foreign nationals from medium risk countries which were exempt from visa requirements will now with immediate effect be required to apply for visas in order to visit South Africa in which a medical report will be required to indicate whether or not they have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Any port of entry visas that were issued to citizens of China and Iran before or on 15 March 2020 for the purposes of visiting the Republic have been cancelled with immediate effect and declared null and void. Furthermore, South African citizens returning from any high risk countries will have to undergo testing and self-quarantine on their return to South Africa, self-quarantine means self-isolation for a period of 14 days. Through the Travel Advisory issued the Minister of International and Cooperation warns that South African citizens planning to travel through the Italian Republic, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Republic of Korea, the Kingdom of Spain, the Federal Republic of Germany, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, the French Republic, the Swiss Confederation and China as well as the European Union should refrain from doing so. Further, that they should also refrain from travelling on cruise ships with immediate effect until further notice. It must be noted that all international travellers including South African citizens, entering South Africa will be required to complete the prescribed health form to be handed to Health officials and Immigration officers. Including this they will be subjected to medical screening upon entering South Africa. 

Concessions 

A few concessions have however been made. These concessions allow a departure from the welcomed but sever restrictions highlighted above. The above-mentioned restrictions do not include holders of diplomatic passports and travel documents issued by international organisations as well as their family members and holders of official/service passports. These restrictions will not apply to the crew members of aircraft and cargo ships, as well as cross border rail and road transportation workers. However, the excluded travellers will be subjected medical screening and be isolated or quarantined if required. If however any foreign nationals need to travel to South Africa for an emergency or any compelling reasons may contact the nearest South African Mission or Consulate to apply for a visa. However, these visa applications will only be considered on merit and thus amounting to a case-by-case basis visa issuance. 

Furthermore, in accordance with the Immigration Directive NO.7 of 2020, any foreign national present in South Africa who originates from a country affected with COVID-19 or who will through transit have to pass through a COVID-19 affected country is permitted to re-apply for a visa, in which such visas will be valid until 31 July 2020. Should it be the case that the visa had already expired since 1 December 2019 or is to expire by 31 March 2020 they will still be permitted to reapply for a visa without needing to first obtain a Form 20. A Form 20 is a requirement needed by an illegal foreigner where their visas have expired. A Form 20 will allow them to remain in the country pending the application status of their visa re-application. However these concessions are only afforded to foreign nationals who had been legally admitted into South Africa. Where a foreign national does not meet one or more of the prescribed requirements for a temporary residence visa, he/she may apply to the Minister in the prescribed manner to waive such a requirement(s). However, no application for change of status or conditions will be allowed. In other words, the foreign national will only be allowed to apply for a new temporary residence visa on the same visa conditions.

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