26 October 2015
New visa changes have been introduced to address concerns raised by tourists, South African travellers and stakeholders in the tourism sector regarding revisions to regulations introduced over the last year.
The announcement was made jointly on Friday, 23 October by the Tourism Ministry and Jeff Radebe, minister in the Presidency for planning, monitoring and evaluation.
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New visa rules, that came into effect in October 2014, required visitors to apply for visas in person at South African embassies to record biometric information. There was also a rule for children under 18 years old travelling in and out of South Africa to produce an unabridged birth certificate at entry ports, which included detailed particulars of the mother and the father of the child.
While it has been noted by the government that these requirements were necessary to safeguard the best interests of children and prevent child trafficking, a recent Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Immigration, spearheaded by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, has now made several recommendations to deal with the security consideration and the unintended consequences of the regulations on various sectors, including tourism and investment.
“In respect of South African children (outbound travel), the IMC accepted the implementation of the current child-travel requirements, including the parental consent affidavits as these seek to protect children,” Radebe said at a media conference on Friday. The new amendments will be implemented over the next three months to a year.
The amended allowances now require South African children travelling through South African borders to have their parents’ identification and citizenship details printed in their passports, doing away with the requirement to carry unabridged birth certificates on entry or exit.
For school tours and other group tours including under-age children, entry and exit regulations now only require confirmation letters from the school principals or a similar authority, along with the amended passport requirements. This authority will also be extended to include registered sports bodies on tour.
“In respect of inbound travellers (international visitors), the IMC took the position that where visas are required, provision of original birth certificates or certified copies of required documents should continue during the visa application process, as this is in line with practice in many other countries,” Radebe said.
Travellers from visa-exempt countries travelling with children will be strongly advised to bring with them proof of the relation and consent from the absent parents or guardians.
Concessions that will take effect within the next three months include allowing people in countries where no South African missions exist to post their application to enter the country to the Department of Home Affairs.
Radebe said the Department of Home Affairs would implement the biometrics, including fingerprints and photos, at the pilot sites at OR Tambo, King Shaka and Cape Town international airports.
Cape Town Tourism chief executive Enver Duminy said in a statement the tourism industry would benefit from the approved recommendations that travel agents be allowed to make visa applications on behalf of clients and that the birth certificate requirement for travelling minors would no longer include the word “abridged”.
To aid investment by international companies into South Africa, the department will also introduce an Accredited Tourism Company (ATC) Programme for China, India and Russia, with possible extension to other visa requiring countries.
Additionally, within the next three months to a year, the Department of Home Affairs will increase Visa Facilitation Centres (VFC) in China, India, United Kingdom, Nigeria Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda, while VFCs have been fast-tracked for November in Zimbabwe, UAE and Botswana.
Corporate travel advisers Grant Thornton Advisory Services told News24 the changes would streamline visa requirements for foreign tourists to South Africa and would make it easier to obtain visas, thereby ensuring a much simpler process for travellers to the country.
“These changes will most definitely assist in getting the tourism industry back on track,” said Lee-Anne Bac, Grant Thornton director.
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According to a Statistics South Africa report released in September 2015, the impact of the previous visa requirements had a sharp effect on tourists visiting South Africa. A comparison between June 2014 and June 2015 showed that, with the exception of France, the number of tourists decreased for all the other nine leading overseas countries. China had the largest decrease of 28.4% – from 5 823 tourists in June 2014 to 4 167 in June 2015.
David Green, chief executive of the V&A Waterfront, said tourism had a powerful economic impact, and his group strongly supported the removal of any hurdles that impeded ease of travel to South Africa. “These recommendations can only bring about positive results for the industry.”
Enver Mally, chairperson of Cape Town Tourism, said: “This is great news, just the kind of boost to our morale that we need as we enter the holiday season.”
Here’s what you need to know about the changes to South Africa’s visa rules:
- In countries with no South African mission or embassy, Home Affairs will accept applications by registered mail, applicable to tourist and medical visitors only.
- These postal applications will then be finalised with the capture of traveller biometrics: finger prints and photos at selected port entries to South Africa – OR Tambo/Johannesburg, King Shaka/Durban and Cape Town international airports.
- South African children travelling out of the country will still be required to submit the current child-travel requirements, including parental consent affidavits as a means to protect the minors. These documents are valid for six months.
- Full details and identification and biometric information of parents will also be printed in the children’s passports; therefore they will not be required to carry the birth certificates. Home Affairs, however, does advise that this form of identification still be carried as an additional form of proof.
- For inbound travellers, proof of original birth certificates or certified copies will only be required during the application process, as this is in line with practice in many other countries.
- The South African government has agreed to amend the law that includes the term “unabridged birth certificate”, changing it to “birth certificate containing parental details”.
- Home Affairs is currently considering the possibility of issuing long-term multiple entry visas for frequent business travellers.
The Department of Home Affairs said that “the mandate issued by government to the department is to put in place the necessary legal instruments to give effect to this decision. The status quo will remain until such time the [department] has provided a legal instrument for this category of travellers. In the meantime travellers are encouraged to comply.”