The Impact of Coronavirus on Immigration to South Africa

As of 5 March 2020, COVID-19 has been reported in South Africa, with a South African national having been confirmed positive for the virus after travel to Italy. Although South Africa has been spared up until now, it’s clear that it is only a matter of time before there is an increase in cases in South Africa.

At the airports, there are checks done for passengers both arriving and departing the Republic, with temperatures being taken at designated points and staff wearing protective masks.

COVID-19 highlights the importance of South African medical reports and radiology reports, which are required for any applicant who wishes to reside in South Africa for a period longer than six months. Both reports are valid for a period of six months from their date of issue. They do not have to continue to be valid once submitted – eg, they can lapse whilst an application is being processed and the application will not be rejected on that basis.

The medical report must be signed by a medical officer/practitioner and must be stamped by their business. The applicant who receives the report must be checked for “leprosy, veneral disease, trachoma, or other infections or contagious condition[s]”

The radiology report is specifically checking for tuberculosis. Again, the form must be signed off by a medical officer/practitioner and must be stamped by their business.

The problem with COVID-19, however, is that a medical report may not necessarily indicate to an immigration official that an applicant has the virus – even more so as the report can be done up to six months prior to entering South Africa (or for renewals, can be done six months prior to the renewal of the application).

The knock-on effect to this is that applicants may come from abroad, have COVID-19 which will spread to people within South Africa and then may need medical treatment themselves. If they do not have insurance that will cover them locally, then they will be using the resources that were otherwise intended for South African citizens/residents.

The solution may be for the Department of Home Affairs to put emergency measures in place which would require applicants to be tested no less than 14 days prior to the submission of their application – and for medical practitioners to specifically look-out for symptoms of COVID-19. As an extreme measure, the Department of Home Affairs could consider implementing medical reports  for all tourists no older than 14 days when coming to South Africa, regardless of the duration they will be spending here.

This would, however, have to be weighed up against the negative impact this would have on tourism, as it is all to relevant the effect that needing to travel with unabridged birth certificates when this was implemented.