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SA: student visas extended amid campus protests

In light of widespread anxiety over the delays recent on-campus unrest and university closures in South Africa could cause to international students’ graduation dates, the government has granted a three-month extension to all undergraduate and postgraduate students whose visas are due to expire this year.

International students affected by clashes and closures at universities in South Africa have been given a visa extension by DHA.'Fees must fall' protests over tuition fees at the University of Cape Town. Protests later turned to violent clashes and led to campus closures. Photo: Wikicommons/Discott.

“We had to intervene in the interest of students, mindful of the situation in tertiary institutions"

A directive from the Department of Home Affairs details a blanket extension that means students whose visas expire on or before December 31, 2016 will now be able to remain in the country until March 31, 2017.

“Acting otherwise would be insensitive to the plight of students, their parents, sponsors and broader society”

“We had to intervene in the interest of students, mindful of the situation in tertiary institutions and the imperative for all students to complete their academic year,” commented Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba. “Acting otherwise would be insensitive to the plight of students, their parents, sponsors and broader society.”

“This is key to their future and that of their countries and ours, given the potential on their part to contribute meaningfully to our economic growth and prosperity.”

The extension applies to both full degree students and semester study abroad students who were expected to leave after the second semester of 2016.

However, the conditions of the extension are extremely strict. The extension does not cover re-entry, and so students who wish to travel and re-enter South Africa during the three-month extension period must apply for a separate visa extension.

Students who remain in the country after December 31 are required to carry a copy of the letter from the Minister of Home Affairs granting the blanket extension and a letter from their higher education institution confirming their status as a student, both of which can be provided by the university.

Students whose existing visas are due to expire after December 31 are not covered by the directive and may face a ban on re-entering South Africa for up to five years if they overstay.

The extension has been granted in response to calls from higher education institutions and other stakeholders to offer students some reprieve in light of the disruption to their studies caused by widespread and violent on-campus clashes and closures in recent months.

The announcement follows an agreement by DHA to relax visa regulations for international students affected by the unrest, which required students to apply individually for an extension of up to six months to complete their studies.

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