Unconstitutionality of Immigration Act impacting foreign nationals’ parental rights
31 Jan 2024
In a groundbreaking judgment on December 4, 2023, the Constitutional Court of South Africa in Rayment v Minister of Home Affairs  ZACC 40 addressed the constitutional challenges posed by the Immigration Act, Act 13 of 2002, in the consolidated cases of Rayment and Others v Minister of Home Affairs and Others; Anderson and Others v Minister of Home Affairs and Others. This article delves into the core issues raised, the court’s findings, and the resulting recommendations, shedding light on the far-reaching consequences for foreign nationals, particularly those with children who are South African citizens or permanent residents.
The requirement for foreign nationals to cease working or leave the country upon the expiration of their spousal visas is at the heart of this constitutional challenge. The affected applicants, who had been dutiful and supportive parents, found themselves in a vulnerable position, with their children’s rights and their own rights to dignity compromised. The court’s recognition of the lack of a legitimate purpose for such limitations underscores the unconstitutionality of the Immigration Act and its regulations.
Unconstitutionality of the South African Immigration Act
The essence of the legal battle revolves around the contention that the Immigration Act inadequately addresses the predicament of foreign nationals whose spousal visas expire upon the dissolution of marriages or good faith spousal relationships. This lapse in the law renders their stay in South Africa illegal, especially when children are part of the equation. The Constitutional Court identified specific sections of the Immigration Act, including 10(6), 11(6), and 18(2), along with regulation 9(9)(a), as inconsistent with the Constitution and thus declared them invalid.
Findings and recommendations of the Constitutional Court
The court’s ruling emphasises the undue burden placed on foreign nationals, particularly parents of South African children, by requiring them to cease working or leave the country when their spousal relationships end. The identified sections of the Immigration Act were found to unjustifiably limit fundamental rights, including the right to dignity of the foreign national, the South African citizen or permanent resident spouse, and most critically, the child’s rights under sections 21(3) and 28(2) of the Constitution.
As a remedy, the court suspended the declarations of invalidity for a period of 24 months. During this time, affected foreign nationals are permitted to continue working and residing in South Africa while applying for new visas. This interim measure provides breathing room for Parliament to amend the Immigration Act to align with constitutional principles and rectify the identified defects.
The cases of Rayment and Anderson underscore a common narrative where foreign nationals, having built lives and families in South Africa, face legal limbo upon the termination of their spousal relationships. The court’s intervention acknowledges the intricate intersection of immigration laws and family dynamics, particularly concerning the rights of children. It is imperative to explore the implications of this ruling, especially for affected parties navigating the revised provisions during the 24-month suspension period.
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