PRETORIA-- South Africa's Department of Home Affairs (Interior) has extended the closing date for payments and submission of supporting documents and biometrics for Zimbabweans residing in the country to obtain their new Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) to Feb 15, 2018.

The cut-off date was initially Nov 30, 2017 and was extended to Jan 31, 2018 in the hope that all those who had applied online would have made the necessary payment and provided the required supporting documents and biometrics, the department said in a statement here Wednesday.

By Jan 29, 2018, a total of 176,605 applicants had completed the entire process, which includes honouring their appointments with the Visa Facilitation Service (VFS) and submitting supporting documents and biometrics.

The extension to 15 February 2018 is only for submitting biometrics (fingerprints) and supporting documents at 10 VFS offices, as well as for those who have submitted online applications by 30 November 2017 but did not pay the prescribed fee. New applications will not be accepted, the department said.

The department plans to have completed the whole project, including finalising adjudications and issuing all new permits, by the end of September 2018. Online applications for the new Zimbabwean Exemption Permit opened on 15 September 2017 for valid Zimbabwe Special Permit (ZSP) holders and closed on 30 November 2017. From 1 October 2017, applicants were allocated appointments so they could provide the required fingerprints and supporting documents at VFS offices, the department said.

A total of 196,006 applications were received by the closing date of online applications, 30 November 2017. No applications were accepted after the closing date.

The ZSP, which started in 2014 with 197,951 permits issued, expired on 31 December 2017.

ZEP permit holders will be allowed to work, study or conduct business in South Africa. The ZEP permits are valid for a maximum period of four years, effective from 1 January 2018 and expiring on 31 December 2021, notwithstanding the date of issue.

Exemption permits like the ZEP permits are not permanent or long-term. They only serve a specific purpose with a view ultimately to have people returning to their countries of origin, to build their lives anew, the department said.