Johannesburg - The Ugandan doctor who was at risk of deportation earlier this week for a lapsed visitor’s visa will now be allowed to stay in South Africa.
The Department of Home Affairs has decided to grant him an exceptional-skills work permit.
Dr Paul Semugoma, who is openly gay and an outspoken activist on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex issues, was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport on Monday when he arrived back in the country after a visit to Zimbabwe.
On Wednesday, immigration officials tried to put him on an SAA flight to Uganda, which recently passed a strict anti-homosexuality bill.
The officials acted despite a Johannesburg High Court order that had been issued the night before ordering the release of Semugoma.
On Thursday, lawyers from both sides discussed a way out of the situation and, by lunchtime, had agreed that Semugoma would request asylum as a refugee, thereby nullifying the legal basis for his detention at the airport.
Just hours later, that application was withdrawn: Semugoma did not need it anymore.
A statement from the department explained: “This follows a decision by the Minister of Home Affairs, Naledi Pandor, to grant him an exceptional-skills work permit in terms of section 19 (4) of the Immigration Act of 2002 as part of the country’s determination to recruit skilled personnel to help contribute to the development of our economy.”
In May, the minister revealed that in 2011, “50 000 work permits (were) available for scarce skills, but only 20 673 of these permits were issued. This means we have not filled that quota.”
Semugoma’s lawyers say he applied for an exceptional-skills permit twice – but both times, the application was lost.
Because he cannot work on a visitor’s visa, he has instead been volunteering his time at the Anova Health Institute by monitoring the latest HIV and Aids research.
Anova’s Dr Kevin Rebe said he was “absolutely delighted” by the outcome of events.
“It’s fantastic that he has finally been granted the visa he has been after for years. Now that he has a visa, he’ll be able to do his job, which is providing ARVs and sexual health guidance to key populations of men.”
The work permit is for four years.
Semugoma was due to be released on Thursday evening.