Sunil Shah: Open letter to Govt – don’t destroy English schools

Veronica Tima on the beach with some of the students
Veronica Tima on the beach with some of the students of the Cape Town school Sunil Shah writes about in this appeal to Government

Open letter to Honourable Deputy Director of Immigration, Jackie Mckay,

I am a director of the English Language School, a business that teaches English predominantly to foreign students. We have been in operation since 2009 and we currently have 5 full-time employees, 3 teachers and 2 admin staff. Veronica Tima started here as a cleaning lady in 2009, and I’m proud to say, through her incredible aptitude, she has worked her way up to the position of Administration Manager! We are a proud little business that operates in rented space overlooking Greenmarket Square in Cape Town.  ELS is a member of EduSA, along with about 25 other schools in South Africa operating in this domain.

As you know, the Ministry of Higher Education devolved the regulatory authority of overseeing language schools to Services Seta. We (along with the EduSA members) have been accredited by Services Seta until March 2016. As you know Services Seta is also evolving, and we will strive to comply with their new regulations once we know what they are. But note we are accredited until March 2016.

When a foreign student wishes to be granted a student visa, he/she must satisfy a host of conditions including the following:

-proof of full payment of his/her course before ELS issues a Letter of Acceptance (LOA)

-proof of accommodation whilst in SA

-proof of funds for living expenses

-a return flight ticket or proof of funds to purchase it

-proof of insurance for health cover

It is only after these conditions were met that our clientele, the foreign student, was granted a visa, and the duration of the visa was for the length of his/her course. There is hence only a minimal risk that the subject might pose an illegal immigration threat.

Recently, policy changes at Home Affairs have disrupted the entire process. Home Affairs demanded a letter directly from the Dept of Higher Education, DHE to prove our accreditation. After a long hiatus where virtually all student visas were denied, we finally received a letter from DHE explicitly stating that Services Seta was our relevant accreditation body, and that we are legal and compliant.

However, even on the production of this letter from the DHE, some embassies are rejecting our students’ visa applications!

I am writing to you to plead with you to rectify the misunderstanding. The DHE has explicitly said we are accredited and compliant under regulations imposed by Services Seta. How is it possible that there are still embassies that are rejecting our status and denying visas, despite the student satisfying all the conditions stated above.

We have had 3 months where business has virtually ground to a halt. No doubt this is partly due to negative international press on the xenophobic attacks, but it is mostly due to the visa issue. Honourable Sir, the misfortune due to the xenophobia scare cannot be controlled by you, but finding a solution to this current visa disaster certainly can.

Under current conditions our business has about 3 months to live before we close our doors due to the unbearable weight of costs and negligible revenue. I can tell you the direct consequences: a vacant premises; five staff who hit the streets as the unemployed, including our wonderful Administration Manager Veronica Tima; the loss of VAT, income tax, PAYE tax for the Exchequer.

Let me outline some of the indirect consequences: loss of income for many host families who rent a room to our students; loss of custom to restaurants, loss of tips to waiters; loss of revenue to the clothing retailers as these students go study English and shop in another country.

Honourable Sir, this cannot be the intention of your policies. I repeat, these students pose minimal immigration risk and are a central pillar of business for a number of language schools in the country.  I am convinced the problem stems from a misapplication of the rules by some embassies and this has to be rectified promptly – no immigration department would consciously inflict such pain on one of the few bright spots of our economy.

I plead with you to rectify the situation – a clear instruction to our embassies across the globe would be a decisive solution. But please act quickly.   Our losses will soon compel us to close our doors.  And no-one deserves that, especially Veronica Tima.


Sunil Shah


English Language School of Cape Town