As someone who has been involved in the immigration law environment for many years, I have become somewhat accustom to the chaotic and often frustrating decisions made by those authorized to do so.

While the Immigration Act is rather clear, its application is more often than not misconstrued and altered in such a way that places an even larger burden on applicants, who are often sent back home from their offices of application, all for the sake of procrastinating the work load for the Home affairs staff.

Visit at the South African embassy in Malawi

Recently a client of ours attempting to submit a simple study visa application (fully prepared in line with the law by ourselves) for her daughter, after being sent back home from the South African Embassy in Malawi, decided that enough was enough and requested our assistance. I personally took the next flight to Malawi to see where exactly the problem was.

Upon landing and walking through the Malawian Immigration department at the Lilongwe airport, my first impression of the country was excellent. All their staff were exceptionally friendly and eager to work as efficiently as possible. Never before have I seen so many smiles and friendly faces.

Malawi itself is an incredibly vibrant and ‘green’ country, full of trees, plants, nature, etc. While not as developed as South Africa, the country itself operates efficiently and everyone seems to have an understanding with each other.

The next day after landing, I accompanied our client to the South African embassy, which is only open from 9am to 12pm, Monday to Friday. Difficult to find working hours better than those, so one would expect all the staff to be in incredibly good moods. Wrong.

Firstly, upon arriving, I was instructed to hand over any cellphones, laptops and electronic equipment. While not the most ridiculous request, I still did find it odd. Once through security, we were allowed to enter a room with a couple of chairs, an out of order drinking water machine and an air-conditioner, which was also out of order unfortunately. The Immigration staff behind the counter were behind a set of glass windows. None of the staff had name tags, and not one smile to be seen.

One by one, the applicants in front of us were called to the window, only to be sent away again. Eventually our turn had come to submit and we were called on over. Firstly, the embassy requested we complete their version of the official Home Affairs visa application form. Once that was completed, we waited in line again. After an hour, we were called up again to hand over our documents. I won’t go into too much detail regarding the individual documents, but as someone well educated in Immigration Law, by now I know what is required and what isn’t. I myself argued and cited the law to the officials, who eventually began ignoring me. After refusing to take in the application due to documents not being in the exact format required by the embassy, we were sent away. Given that the embassy is only open for 3 hours, being sent away more often than not means only being able to return the next day.

We arrived again at the embassy the next day

The next day, we arrived at the embassy bright and early to attempt to submit again, this time with the very same documents, as the format of the documents they said they required was not possible to obtain anymore. We waited in line and were eventually called up again.

This time, I decided to take a more friendly approach with the officials, who by now knew my client and I quite well. After making a few jokes and smiling all the way, they eventually took the application in, 10 minutes before closing time and 2 hours before my return flight to South Africa.

Needless to say, it was overall not the most pleasant of experiences. The Embassy staff were often rude and saw themselves as ‘Kings and Queens’ of their kingdom, aka the Embassy. Whatever they decided goes, and if you did not like it you are welcome to leave. On that note, patience and dedication paid out in the end, and the visa was finally issued successfully.

Please do not hesitate to contact us for advice regarding immigration & visa, setting up business, property transfer & investment.

By Kyle Ernstzen