The Zimbabwean government is undertaking needs assessments and community sensitization to prepare for the return of thousands of its citizens facing the expiration of exemption permits in South Africa.

Recent reports indicate thousands of Zimbabweans living in South Africa hold Zimbabwean Exemption Permits (ZEPs), a special permit first issued in 2009 that allows legal residence and employment. But these permits are set to expire on June 30, 2023, with no plans for renewal or migration to other visa types.

Government officials and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have deployed assessment teams to communities across Zimbabwe to determine citizens’ needs ahead of the looming return. The teams are visiting government departments, institutions and communities to gather data and input.

According to Foreign Affairs Secretary James Manzou, the main goal is to safely and humanely reintegrate compatriots upon their return. The assessments will inform a report and recommendations to Cabinet.

Zimbabwe has appointed an inter-ministerial technical committee to coordinate preparations and sent a delegation to map ZEP holders in South Africa. Officials are also conducting a census of permit holders to determine the number set to return.Frontline workers are being trained in counseling and psychosocial skills to aid the reintegration process.

The IOM has pledged support to complement government efforts in assisting citizens’ return and reintegration from South Africa.

South Africa has issued the exemption permits for 14 years, allowing skilled Zimbabweans to legally work and live in the country. But holders now face losing legal status unless they qualify for alternative permits.