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November 17, 2015

Sub-Saharan Africa: Visa Regulations Adjusted for Ease of Entry

South Africa has overhauled its controversial visa regulations, which saw a 6 percent decrease in arrivals since implementation – the worst industry performance since 2009. The Cabinet approved recommendations by the Inter Ministerial Committee (IMC) in late October. 

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Photo by Freeimages.com/James Miller

Introduced in June 2014, the new rules required visitors to apply for visas in person at South African embassies to have their biometric information taken. Children traveling in and out of the country needed to produce an unabridged birth certificate. 

The IMC recommendations will see South African children still travelling with unabridged birth certificates, while foreign children will need to travel with a “birth certificate containing parental details”. Details of parents will also be printed in SA children’s passports so those parents will not be required to carry certificates. 

Visitors travelling from countries where no visa facilitation centres exist will be allowed to submit their application to the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) by post. Individuals are required to submit biometrics including fingerprints upon arrival at ports of entry. Current biometric pilot sites are OR Tambo Airport, King Shaka Airport and Cape Town International Airport. Additionally, the IMC recommended that the DHA continue issuing long-term multiple visas to frequent travellers. 

DHA will implement these concessions over the next three months in the following ways: 
•    Implement the capturing of biometrics at ports of entry, starting with the pilot programme 
•    Look at introducing an accredited tourism company programme for countries like China, India and Russia
•    Consider a long-term multiple entry visa for a period exceeding three months and up to three years for frequent travellers (for business meetings), business people and academics
•    Principals will issue letters confirming permission for children to travel on school tours
•    Extend the validity of the parental consent affidavit to six months

Within the next year, the DHA will add visa facilitation centres in countries including Zimbabwe, UAE and Botswana, consider a visa waiver for countries like India, China and Russia, look at issuing visas on arrival for persons travelling to SA having their passports checked my any other country that applies stringent checks, consider granting African frequent flyers a 10 year multiple entry visa, and open multiple business visa application centres across the country. 

Tourism and travel organisations have welcomed the concessions, although some critics believe it’s still not enough. Before the IMC announcement in early October, Adriaan Liebetrau, CEO of the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI) voiced fears that they may lose international bids to host major congresses to other countries as a result of the regulations. Delegate numbers have already dropped since June last year. “The last two congresses hosted in South Africa dropped 45 percent and 71 percent respectively in delegate numbers,” he told Tourism Update. 

According to Liebetrau, the number of attendees for next year’s AIDS Conference – an estimated 20 000 delegates – are at risk. “Moreover, because the bidding process occurs four to eight years in advance, the effect we are currently sitting with is not just hurting us now but it is going to affect us for many years to come.” 

On average, delegates who conference in SA spend R3 200 per day on pre-tours and post-tours, and a further 60 percent of them would return to the country to holiday with their families. 

In other news, applying for passports will get easier for South Africans. Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba announced in September that locals would soon be able to apply for their Smart IDs and passports at banks around the country. After a pilot programme in November, a national roll-out will commence at certain FNB, Standard Bank and Nedbank branches. 


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