15 July 2014
South Africa’s new immigration rules will allow for more efficient issuing of visas and easier sourcing of critical skills from overseas, while reducing the country’s vulnerability to the security threats of the modern world, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said in Cape Town on Tuesday.
Gigaba was speaking during his department’s budget vote debate in Parliament, a day after the official opening of the new Johannesburg Visa Facilitation Centre, one of 11 new visa facilitation centres designed to efficiently implement the country’s new immigration rules.
The rules, which came into effect in May, include the requirements that visa applications be made by applicants in person – so that biometric data (fingerprints and photographs) can reliably be collected – and that minors travel with their own passports as well as unabridged birth certificates.
Immigration practitioners and other representatives of the tourism sector have expressed concern about the potential effect of the new rules on South Africa’s tourism industry.
No ‘Afro-phobic’ agenda at play
Gigaba rejected these concerns on Tuesday, saying: “Opportunistically, South Africa is being advised to drop or relax visa requirements in a world where they are required of South Africans when travelling abroad and where security has become a matter of global concern.
“We reject with contempt any suggestion that these regulations are part of an ‘Afrophobic’ agenda to keep Africans – or any nationality, for that matter – out of South Africa.”
Gigaba said South Africa had not terminated any visa waiver agreements it currently enjoyed with other countries, and was keen to forge more such agreements “as we are satisfied that more African countries are conducting civic registration of their nationals”.
‘Now easier to attract critical skills’
Further, he said, the new immigration regulations would make it easier for South Africa to attract the critical skills it needed from overseas, as foreign nationals with such skills could now be granted a critical skills visa even without having a job, allowing them to enter the country and seek work for up to 12 months.
“For some time now, business stakeholders have been asking for families of workers to be considered as a unit, an international best practice which the new regulations now include,” Gigaba added.
“These specific improvements, and our commitment to responsiveness to business needs in general, will make it easier for South Africa to attract the critical skills and investment our economy needs.”
New visa facilitation centres
Speaking at the opening of the new visa facilitation centre in Johannesburg on Monday, Gigaba said the centre, along with 10 others across the country, would efficiently implement the new immigration rules while making life easier for foreign tourists, business people, workers or students who need extended or altered visas within a short space of time.
VFS Global, a specialist service provider for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide, has been contracted to automate and run the visa application process, including managing the call centre and the 11 facilitation centres spread across South Africa’s nine provinces.
Foreigners in South Africa who, for example, need to extend their temporary residence visas for study or work, can now apply online and set up an appointment before visiting the nearest facilitation centre to submit their personal biometrics (fingerprints and photographs). Handling and visa fees will all be paid electronically.
“All of this constitutes a radical departure from the existing mode of manual application processes that are responsible for inefficiencies within the permitting environment, creating massive inconveniences to clients,” Gigaba said, adding that results were already starting to show.
“Where previously our eight-week turnaround time was frequently missed, already applicants who applied for visas and permits in mid-June are beginning to receive decisions. An indication of the enthusiastic response to the new system is that 4 000 applications were received in June alone.”
Standard practice abroad
Although VFS Global will be responsible for processing visa applications, the decision to approve or reject applications still lies with the Department of Home Affairs. “We exercise full control over the decision-making processes to ensure that our national interests and security imperatives are served at all times,” Gigaba said.
The department has already introduced such centres in a number of its high-volume missions abroad – including its missions in China, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria – where it had previously struggled to cut down on long queues and long turn-around times.
“While we remain committed to helping the country create a climate conducive for investment and to assist in bringing critical skills to contribute to economic development, it remains critical for us as a country to upgrade security, in the interest of our citizens and foreign nationals in the country, as is the case everywhere else in the world,” Gigaba said.
He urged visa applicants “to bear with us, as this system is still new and is bound to confront some technical glitches. This is only natural, and with time it will be addressed and everyone will be happy.”