Final-year international students at South African universities whose studies have been affected by the ongoing student protests should have no problem applying for visa extensions, as the government has agreed to ease the process.

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) said that as a result of student protests, which have sparked outbreaks of violence, university campuses across the country have seen temporary closures which have set back their academic calendars by weeks, affecting thousands of students.  

Should the protests continue to disrupt academic activities, students may have to finish up the rest of the academic year in 2017.

Foreign students in their final year of study have been concerned over their visa status, as most of their student visas expire at the end of this year.

However, following a request by the International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA), the government has said it will allow final-year students to extend their visas up to six months.

IEASA president Nico Jooste, who is also senior director of the Office for International Education at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), told The PIE News that the extension would only apply to students whose universities are extending their academic year into next year, as most universities plan to complete the current academic year by the end of 2016.

He thus recommended that universities make their decision as soon as possible and inform students so they may begin applying for the extension.

Usually, students applying for visa extensions would need to submit their documents at least 60 days before their visa expires, but the DHA is relaxing the submission deadline, in addition to only requiring critical documents for the application, including a letter issued by their university.

“International students are caught in the middle of this, especially study abroad students, because they have to think about changing their return home flights,” said Jooste.

He added: “Some universities are making arrangements to have students write exams back home but allowing them to finish the teaching period in South Africa.”

NNMU, the University of Witwatersrand, and the University of Cape Town have announced that they will resume academic activities on October 17.

On Sunday, it was reported that local authorities have arrested a student protest leader, Mcebo Dlamini, former president of the University of the Witwatersrand student council.

According to the Associated Press, the police confirmed that a 32-year-old man was arrested at a student residence at around 1am Sunday as part of investigations into “recent violence, criminality and acts of intimidation”.

Since the end of September, students at South African universities have been calling for free tertiary education, following news that the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) was allowing universities to raise tuition fees by up to eight percent starting next year.

The protests, however, have been marred by cases of vandalism and violence. It’s unclear how soon an agreement between the DHET, universities, and the student protesters can be reached.

Image via Associated Press

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