Zimbabwean exemption permit (ZEP) – status of Zimbawean employee’s in the republic of South Africa

The Minister of Home Affairs effectively ended the ZEP, which applies to Zimbabwean Nationals working and living in the Republic of South Africa, on the 31st of December 2021. This resulted in numerous Zimbabweans not being able to apply for an extension of the ZEP and, as a result, are facing deportation should they not have applied and or been granted the different kinds of visas allowing them to continue to stay and work the Republic.


The Minister decided as he was empowered to do so regarding the relevant provisions of the Immigration Act, 2002. The Minister initially provided a grace period of 12 months ending on 31 December 2022, which was subsequently extended on the 2nd of September 2022 through Immigration Directive 2 of 2022 for a further six months ending on the 30th of June 2023. During this grace period, ZEP holders are required to regularise their stay through customary immigration laws of the Republic.

What does this exemption mean?As per the Notice posted on the Government Gazette 45727 on the 7th of January 2022:

  1. No holder of the exemption may be arrested, ordered to depart or be detained for purposes of deportation or deported in terms of the Section 34 of the Immigration Act for any reason related to him or her not having any valid exemption certificate (i.e. permit label / sticker) in his or her passport. The holder of the exemption permit may not be dealt with in Sections 29, 30 and 32 of the Immigration Act
  2. The holder of the exemption may be allowed to enter into or depart from the Republic of South Africa in terms of Section 9 of the Act, read together with the Immigration Regulations, 2014, provided that he or she complies with all other requirements for entry into and departure from the Republic, save for the reason of not having valid permit indicated in her or her passport; and
  3. No holder of exemption should be required to produce- a) A valid exemption certificate; and b) An authorisation letter to remain in the Republic is contemplated in section 32(2) of the Immigration Act when applying for any category of visas, including temporary residence visas.

Although there have been court challenges regarding the Minister’s decision to end the ZEP permits, none thus far have been successful. Without further agreement between the Republic of South Africa and Zimbabwe regarding the continuation of the ZEP permits, employees are urged to take advantage of the extended grace period provided and apply for the other types of visas they may qualify for in terms of the Immigration Act.

Failure by employees to apply and obtain such other visas will lead to such employees being considered illegally in the Republic of South Africa upon the expiry of the extended grace period and result in their continued employment by business in South Africa being considered unlawful.

Employers are advised that at the current stage, the continued employment of such employees are considered lawful however great care should be taken when coming closer to the end of the extended grace period when the employer would be required to issue ultimatums and follow up on the progress of such employees applying for the different visas and should they not obtain such alternative visa, their continued employment is required to be terminated upon the expiry of such grace period, through following a fair process.

Should an employer have issued notices or ultimatum in this regard indicating that the deadline for having a valid work or another visa as per the Immigration Act, will have to advise such employees that the deadline has moved to the 30th of June 2023 and therefore, they will be required obtain the required visas on or before such date to be allowed to continue their employment with the company.

Should you require any assistance in respect of the ZEPs and Ultimatums or have any queries in consideration hereof, kindly contact our Invictus team on 0861 737 263 or your designated consultant.