Foreign refugees are now very, very close to being practically able to claim UIF in South Africa

Business Insider SA
  • The department of labour has published draft updates to Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) regulations, the last step before they can become official, that will give refugees practical access to the fund.
  • The government lost a major court case – in 2017 – about withholding unemployment insurance payments to foreigners who contributed to the fund, and settled another earlier this year.
  • Yet, officially, you still need a South African ID book to claim benefits. Now that is set to change.
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Foreign refugees are now one step away from being able to practically claim against South Africa's Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), decades and two major court cases later.

Asylum seekers who enter South Africa looking for protected status as formal refugees are eligible to work as soon as they register at refugee reception centres, while their claim is being evaluated. They can, and often do, contribute to UIF – but were barred from claiming against the fund when they lost their jobs because they lacked South African identity documents.

Until 2009 the regulations that govern UIF payments required a South African ID book or South African passport in order to eligible for payments. 

In that year the rules were updated – with retrospective effect – to include "non-RSA" identity documents and "valid foreign identity documents and passports". 

But even then asylum seekers, if they did have such documents at all, were barred from payouts, the Equality Court heard in a matter decided in 2017. The department of labour said its systems simply did not allow people without local ID or passport numbers to be registered to receive the cash they were, in other respects, eligible for.

The department was ordered to fix its systems.

Two years later, in February 2019, the government initially opposed a claim in the high court about the same issue, then at the last minute before a hearing in the high court conceded that the system is unfair.

This week labour minister Thulas Nxesi published an update to the UIF regulations, kicking off a 30-day comment window before they can be made final.

Under the new wording a valid identity document to claim against UIF will include “permits and other identifying documents contemplated in or issued in terms of the Refugees Act”. 

That law stipulates the paperwork that must be issued to those claiming refugee status as soon as they cross into South Africa, and the more detailed paperwork issued when they register at reception centres.

In terms of a court order on the February case, the government had nine months to update the regulations in such fashion, a deadline that expires in July.

On Wednesday the Werksmans pro bono legal team behind that order said it will be studying the draft regulations to ensure they are fully complaint with the high court's directions.

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