Refugees, Asylum Seekers and the Law
Applying for asylum in South Africa
A person who enters the Republic of South Africa through a port of entry, for example a land border post, airport or harbour and claims to be an asylum seeker must complete the relevant Department of Home Affairs forms with the required documentation. All applications are governed by section 23 of the Immigration Act 13 of 2002 (Immigration Act). The asylum transit visa is non-renewable. The asylum transit visa is valid for a period of 5 days only and authorises the person to report to the nearest Refugee Reception Office. this will enable the person to apply for asylum in terms of section 21 of the Refugees Act 130 of 1998 (Refugees Act).
Persons who claim to be asylum seekers, but who are only encountered after arrival in South Africa may be issued with a visa valid for 14 days to allow them to approach the nearest Refugee Reception Office to submit an asylum application. The application must be made within the 14-day period.
The following documents are required:
- a section 23 permit in terms of the Refugee Act;
- any proof of identification from the country of origin; and
- a travel document if available.
Granting of refugee status
When a foreign national is granted refugee status, the person is generally issued with a refugee permit. The holder has the right to work and study in South Africa and is protected against deportation to his or her country of origin or any third country. The refugee permit is valid for a period of 2 years.
Renewing refugee status
The refugee permit can be renewed indefinitely for a further two-year period at a time. The renewal request should be submitted at least 60 days prior to the expiry of the refugee permit. However, because the Department of Home Affairs may have application backlogs, submission 6 months prior to expiry is recommended.
Permanent residency as a refugee
In terms of section 27 (d) of the Immigration Act, once a foreign national has had refugee status in South Africa for a period 5 years, an application can be submitted for “certification” (i.e. permanent residence) status. Following an initial review of the application at that Refugee Reception Office to ensure that all required information and supporting documentation has been provided, the application is referred to the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs which is the body established by the Department of Home Affairs to certify whether or not an applicant should be considered an indefinite refugee and, as such, granted certification. If the request for certification is successful, the foreign national can then proceed to obtain an “immigration visa” or “permanent residence visa” directly from the Department of Home Affairs.