Asylum & Refugee Status Determination

ATTENTION! The DHA will start offering additional services at the RROs from 3 May 2022. For more information on this, click HERE

The Department for Home Affairs of the South African government runs the asylum process in South Africa. You can read about the process in the Refugees Act (see Sections 21, 22 and 24) together with the Refugees Act Regulations (see sections 2, 7, 8 and 14) and the Immigration Act (section 23).

In the South African law the definition of a Refugee can be found at section 3 of the Refugees Act.  The Refugees Act bases the definition on that found in the UN Refugee Convention and the OAU Refugee Convention.

More information about Refugee Status & Asylum in South Africa can be found at the Department of Home Affairs website here.


How can you apply for asylum in South Africa? ⬇

ATTENTION! You have the right to have an interpreter during the entire process. If this is not presented to you, ask for it!

  1. If you enter South Africa to apply for asylum, you must declare this at the port of entry. When you do this, you should be given an ‘asylum transit visa’ allowing you to travel to a Refugee Reception Office (“RRO”) to register your claim.
  2. You must apply for asylum within five days of entering South Africa. You must apply at a Refugee Reception Office (or another place designated by the Director-General of Home Affairs). There, your biometrics and other data will be taken.  Scalabrini has developed a helpful guide on applying for asylum online that you can read in ENGLISH or in FRENCH.
  3. If you did not enter through a port of entry – or if you did, but you were not issued with an ‘asylum transit visa’ – at the RRO, you will be interviewed by an Immigration Officer so they can understand why you do not have this visa. Depending on your reasons, they may allow you to apply for asylum.
  4. If you apply for asylum more than five days after entering South Africa and have reasons for this delay, you must explain this clearly.
  5. To apply for asylum, you need an appointment with an RRO. Since 4 May 2022, RRO has been open for appointments which can be made through email; here are the steps you need to follow:
    1. Please send an email to [email protected] They will send you an application form to complete
    2. The completed application form has to be sent to [email protected]
    3. In the subject line of your email, write only the name of the RRO where you want to apply e.g., Gqeberha, Durban, Desmond Tutu, or Musina
    4. Your application will be automatically sent to the RRO of your choice. The staff at that RRO will then send you an appointment letter via email for a date upon which you have to report to the RRO.
    5. Appointments are allocated on a first-come, first served basis but also according to country intake days to ensure the availability of telephonic translators.
    6. If you have a #711-reference number because Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha) RRO already took your fingerprints, include it in your application.
    7. The number of appointments given for a specific day will depend on the specific RRO’s availability.

IMPORTANT: Remember to check your email frequently and the Spam/Junk Mail mailboxes for the RRO’s response!

When you fill out your application form, be careful. Everything you write on this form must be true and correct. Make sure you write the complete and correct details of all your children and all spouses or permanent partners, whether they are in South Africa or not – or even if you do not know their whereabouts.

When you are given an appointment at an RRO, remember the following:

  1. You will have to provide the RRO with biometrics. Children, spouses, or other dependents who accompany you will also have their biometrics taken.
  2. If you got married outside of South Africa, you would need to provide your original marriage certificate. You and your partner must provide an affidavit confirming that you are married. You will also have to be interviewed separately on the same day by the Refugee Status Determination Officer (RSDO), who will have to decide on the validity of your marriage.
  3. After submitting your asylum application, you will be scheduled for an interview with an RSDO. This could happen immediately, or you could be asked to come on a different day for this interview.
  4. After applying for asylum, you and your dependents must be issued an asylum seeker document (known as a ‘Section 22’ asylum seeker visa). One document must be issued to each person in your family unit. Make copies of these documents and always keep them very safe.

How is the interview with the Refugee Status Determination Officer? ⬇

ATTENTION! You have the right to have an interpreter during the entire process. If this is not presented to you, ask for it!

  1. Before the interview begins the Refugee Status Determination Officer (RSDO) must explain the procedure to you. If they do not, ask them to do so.
  2. During the interview the RSDO should ask you the reasons why you fled your country and why it may be unsafe to return. They may request evidence or clarification of what you tell them. If they are not making their own refugee claim, spouses will be interviewed separately. The interview must be recorded. If it is discovered that you provided false, dishonest or misleading information, your asylum application will be rejected.
  3. After the interview the RSDO must provide you with a decision (the “RSDO decision”). They might give you the decision immediately after the interview or ask you to come back on another day for the decision. If they ask you to come back on another day, you must go to the same Refugee Reception Office where you applied for asylum. You should receive the decision in writing.  The decision may be to grant you refugee status or it may be to reject your asylum application. Make sure to make copies of the decision and keep it very safe.

What happens if you are recognised as a Refugee? ⬇

If you are granted status as a refugee in the Republic of South Africa you will be given a ‘Section 24’ permit (unless you are excluded for any reason).  This will allow you to remain in South Africa for four years (at which point you can apply to stay longer).  It is important to know that being given refugee status in South Africa carries with it certain rights and responsibilities – both for you as a refugee and for the government.

A ‘section 24’ refugee status document should:

  • Be valid for four years (unless it is withdrawn or ceases before that),
  • Be granted to the main file holder as well as all dependents included in that holder’s refugee file (these are the dependents listed at the initial application, or who have been successfully added in your file)
  • Must be reapplied for at least 90 days prior to the expiry of the document.

A person who has been issued a ’section 24’ refugee recognition document must:

  • Apply for an identity card immediately (this ‘refugee ID’ is valid for the same time period as the ‘section 22’ refugee status document).
  • Cannot leave South Africa without a refugee travel document and may apply for this document if travel is going to be undertaken.
  • Must notify the officials at the Refugee Reception Office of any change in address.

The refugee document also states that it can be withdrawn ‘if the holder has been convicted and sentenced for a criminal offence’. In addition to these conditions, you must abide by the laws of South Africa.


Can a recognised Refugee apply for Permanent Residency in South Africa? ⬇

A recognised refugee can begin the process of applying for permanent residence only after ten years of continuous residence in South Africa from the date he or she was recognised as a refugee (section 24).

The first step is to apply for ‘certification’ that she or he will remain a refugee indefinitely. This application must be made in writing.  Bring your application to the Refugee Reception Office where you first registered. They will forward your application to the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs.  It can take some time for this first step to be completed.

Note: There is some risk to applying for certification as the Standing Committee may decide you are no longer a refugee. It is advised that you seek legal advice or assistance if you want to make this application. See Legal Assistance for a list of UNHCR’s partner organisations to contact.


What happens if your asylum application is rejected as ‘unfounded’? ⬇

If the Refugee Status Determination Officer’s (RSDO) decision on your asylum application is to reject your claim as ‘unfounded’ (the written decision will include this term), you have the right to appeal this decision. You should be informed of this right when you are given the written decision.  If you decide to appeal, you must lodge your appeal with the Refugee Appeals Authority within ten working days of the date that you received the RSDO decision rejecting your application.

If you do not hand in your appeal application within ten working days, the decision by the RSDO to reject your application will be considered final. This means your asylum application has failed, and you are not permitted to remain in South Africa. In very limited circumstances, if you fail to submit your appeal application within the ten working days, you might be able to hand it in ‘late’, if you can prove, with evidence, that you have ‘compelling reasons’ why you were late.


What is the Appeal Process? ⬇

If you disagree with the decision to reject your asylum application, you can appeal that decision by submitting your appeal, within ten days as stated above, with the Refugee Appeals Authority. There are set reasons why you can appeal a rejection of your asylum application – so we advise you to seek legal advice on this application immediately. See Question 16 of this booklet for a list of organisations you can contact.

An appeal application should be made in a specific format known as a ‘Notice of Appeal’ (which is found at Form 9 of the Refugees Regulations. You must submit this application at the Refugee Reception Office that has been handling your asylum application. Officials at the Refugee Reception Office must send your appeal application to the Refugee Appeals Authority. You are entitled to continue renewing your asylum document after you have handed in your appeal application, while waiting for a decision from the Refugee Appeals Authority.

The Refugee Appeals Authority will look at your Notice of Appeal. They may invite you for an oral hearing. If they think they can make a decision without a hearing, they will tell you this. You can always request a hearing if you want one, however. If a hearing takes place (or if you ask for one), you will be notified of the date and time of the hearing. You have a right to legal representation (a lawyer) at the appeal hearing: see Question 16. You may also request an interpreter.

If you have a hearing, you will be offered an opportunity to speak at the hearing.  At this hearing the members of the Refugee Appeals Authority will ask you questions regarding your asylum claim and related matters.

The Refugee Appeals Authority will reconsider your asylum appeal and will, in due course, provide a fresh decision on your application. This decision must be in writing. If you are offered an appeal hearing and you do not attend the Refugee Appeals Authority can make a decision without you being there.

What are the possible outcomes of the Appeal Process?

The Refugee Appeals Authority must make a decision on your appeal. This can be one of three things:

  • A ‘final’ rejection: this means that your asylum claim has again been rejected and you can no longer legally remain in South Africa. You will be notified of how many days you have in South Africa before you must leave the country. The only way to challenge this decision is by a ‘judicial review’. You will need a lawyer for this; see Question 16.
  • You are granted refugee status: this means the Refugee Appeal Authority has confirmed that you are recognised as a refugee. You must be provided with a refugee recognition document.
  • The decision is ‘remitted‘ (sent back) to the Refugee Status Determination Officer- the Refugee Appeals Authority decides to send your asylum application back to a Refugee Status Determination Officer again, who will re-interview you and make a new decision on your asylum application.

How long will it take for the Refugee Appeals Authority to make a decision? ⬇

There is no set timescale within the Refugees Act, its Regulations, or the Refugee Appeal Authority’s rules of procedure indicating a timescale within which you can expect a decision on your appeal.  However, the Appeals Authority has recently begun a project to address the large backlog of appeals pending with them.

The Backlog Project

In April 2021 the Refugee Appeals Authority of South Africa (RAASA), with the support and collaboration of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and UNHCR, began a four year project. The project has two aims: one, to reach a final decision on the approximately 150,000 appeals pending in their backlog and, two, to introduce ways of working that will prevent future backlogs from developing in future.  UNHCR is supporting this project not only by offering its expertise and staff support but also by providing funds that will allow for an increase in the number of decision-makers (called “Members”) that will make the decisions.  The Minister of Home Affair’s address at the signing ceremony of the project can be found here.


What happens if your asylum application is rejected as ‘manifestly unfounded’, ‘abusive’, or ‘fraudulent’? ⬇

If the RSDO decision on your asylum application is a rejection as ‘manifestly unfounded’, ‘abusive’, or ‘fraudulent’ (which should be made clear on the written decision), this will be automatically sent for ‘review’ by the Standing Committee for Refugee Affairs (SCRA). You should be informed of this when you are given the decision. You are entitled to continue renewing your asylum document while you are waiting for a decision from the Standing Committee.

What are the possible outcomes of the review process?

The Standing Committee can do one of three things:

  • They can agree with the decision of the RSDO. In this case you will receive a ‘final’ rejection. This means that your asylum claim has again been rejected and you can no longer legally remain in South Africa. You will be notified of how many days you have in South Africa before you must leave the country. The only way to challenge this decision is by a ‘judicial review’. You will need a lawyer for this. See Legal Assistance for a list of UNHCR’s partner organisations to contact;
  • They can disagree with the decision of the RSDO and substitute their own decision to accept your application. In this case you are granted refugee status. This means the Standing Committee has confirmed that you are recognised as a refugee. You must be provided with a refugee recognition document.
  • They can disagree with the decision of the RSDO but send it back for a new decision to be made. The decision is ‘remitted’ (sent back) to the Refugee Status Determination Officer, who will re-interview you and make a new decision on your asylum application.

What is Judicial Review? ⬇

If the decision by the Refugee Appeals Authority or the Standing Committee is a ‘final rejection,’ and you wish to challenge this, you must urgently seek legal advice. You can only challenge a ‘final rejection’ by way of a judicial review which can only be at a High Court. You need a lawyer for this. You can seek advice from a private or a pro-bono lawyer (See Legal Assistance for a list of UNHCR’s partner organisations to contact). When using the services of a private lawyer, you can verify that their credentials by looking them up on the Legal Practise Council website  – every lawyer who has the right to practise in South Africa is listed on that website.


Can you add your family members to your application/file? ⬇

The protection of the family is an important human right. If you were separated from your family before or during your flight, you may apply for them to join you in South Africa, under specific conditions. Whether your family can join you ultimately depends on the type of legal status you have and the nature of your relationship.

In South Africa, family unification – known informally as ‘family joining’ – means granting asylum or refugee documentation to dependent family members of a recognised refugee or asylum seeker in South Africa. The family unit is documented under one file. This affirms the principle of documenting a family together.

         If you are a refugee or an asylum seeker in South Africa, the following are considered your family members or ’dependents’:

  • Your spouse,
  • Your unmarried children,
  • Your dependent child (whether they are born before or after the application for asylum)
  • Your destitute, aged or infirm parents who are dependent on you.

A ‘child’ means any person under the age of 18 years.

A ‘spouse’ means any person who is party to a marriage or same sex union which is solemnised and registered as either a civil, religious or customary union. This also includes a marriage that took place in your home country. It also includes persons in a permanent heterosexual or homosexual relationship.

  • Anyone who applies for asylum in South Africa after 1 January 2020 can only join dependents to their asylum file if they declared that dependent in their original application for asylum, unless it is a child born to you after your application for asylum or a spouse with whom you get married or enter a permanent relationship after you apply for asylum in South Africa.
  • It is very important that you include all dependents on your application for asylum, and that you write all their names and dates of birth correctly and in full. If you do not record them correctly, it might cause problems later on.

How to apply for ‘family joining’? ⬇

ATTENTION! The family joining process  which had been stopped due to national lockdown  in 2020 has been reinstated  by the government and Scalabrini has produced  a useful guide on how you can add family members to your application HERE.

Dependents that you had before applying for asylum must be included, or declared, in your asylum application. Failure to do so will mean that they cannot be joined to your asylum file. If you have a child that is born after you apply for asylum, you can join them to your asylum file at the Refugee Reception Office. If you get married or enter a permanent relationship after you apply for asylum, you can join your spouse, or partner, as a dependent in your asylum or refugee file. You will need to show specific proof of this:

Spouse: If you get married or enter a permanent relationship after you apply for asylum in South Africa, you will have to apply to have them included in your asylum file by bringing a marriage certificate or notarial agreement to the Refugee Reception Office.

Child: If you have a child after you have been in South Africa for a while, and after you have applied for asylum, you will need to bring your child, their South African birth certificate and a certified copy of this birth certificate, to the Refugee Reception Office along with your own documentation.

Non-Biological children: If you bring child relatives with you into South Africa that are not your biological children you will have to apply to the Children’s Court to be declared the child’s legal caregiver before the child can be joined to your file. If you are caring for a child that is not your biological child, and you hold asylum seeker or refugee status, we recommend that you contact one of the organisations listed in the Legal Assistance section for further assistance.


What should you do if you did not include all your dependents in your asylum application? ⬇

If you failed to include all your children in your asylum application when you first made it, you should still try to join these children in your asylum file at the Refugee Reception Office. This process is described in Regulation 8(9) of the Refugees Regulations and requires that you bring a DNA test to the Refugee Reception Office proving the child is yours. If this child is not your biological child, the Refugee Reception Office will refer the child to the Department of Social Development as an accompanied minor so that they can be documented on their own.

If you have questions or are unsure, please do not hesitate to contact our Refugee Helpline ? (0800 100 030) and/or seek legal advice right away. List of UNHCR Legal Partners can be found on Legal Assistance section.


How do I Renew my Asylum Seeker or Refugee Permits online?

For a step-by-step guide on how to renew your permits online, visit the Online Renewal of Permits post.

Scalabrini has also developed a useful guide on how to use the online services provided by the Government to renew asylum seeker and refugee permits online that you can access HERE.


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