Profession discusses problems with refugees’ and immigrants’ banking accounts with stakeholders

November 1st, 2013
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By Barbara Whittle

In September 2013 members of the Law Society of South Africa’s (LSSA’s) Immigration and Refugee Law Committee met with representatives of the South African Banking Association, the Financial Intelligence Centre and the Deputy Director-General, Immigration Services from Department of Home Affairs, Jackson McKay. The LSSA delegation, led by Co-chairperson Kathleen Matolo-Dlepu, included committee members Julian Pokroy and Chris Watters, as well as Lizette Burger and Andrew Sebapu from the LSSA professional affairs department.

This meeting was a follow-up to a prior meeting held in June 2013 at the request and instance of the LSSA’s immigration and refugee law committee.

The request for the meeting was based on inquiries from the organised legal profession regarding the approach of the commercial banks towards temporary residence permit holders who are on invalid work and other permits, but had applied timeously for extensions of these and, due to delays within the Department of Home Affairs, had reached the expiry dates of their permits without their extension applications being finalised. This period varies between one and nine months past the expiry dates of the original permits. One of the unforeseen consequences of the situation became the perceived arbitrary action of the commercial banks when freezing the banking accounts of the affected foreign nationals. It became apparent to the delegation from the LSSA that there were issues surrounding the ss 22 and 24 permits granted to asylum seekers and refugees under the Refugees Act 130 of 1998 (see also ‘LSSA news’ on 2013 (Oct) DR 20).

At the September meeting it appeared that one of the issues that had been resolved under the Immigration Act 13 of 2002 was that there would no longer be an arbitrary ‘freezing’ of foreign nationals’ bank accounts until such time as the individuals had exhausted all remedies under the Immigration Act.

Regarding the issue of ss 22 and 24 permit holders (that is, asylum seeker and refugee permits granted under the Refugees Act) the SA Banking Association representative indicated that a more circumspect approach was being taken by the banks and that, where a permit of this nature had lapsed or expired, the holder was given a 30-day period in which to bring about an ‘orderly closure’ of the account.

Compiled by Barbara Whittle, communication manager, Law Society of South Africa, barbara@lssa.org.za

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2013 (Nov) DR 16.