Visa regulations eased after tourism takes a knock

The Cabinet has authorised changes to the implementation of the unpopular visa regulations‚ which have hit South Africa’s tourism industry.

Tourism from China showed the biggest drop in the past year‚ despite the South African government’s emphasis on close political and trade ties with the Brics giant.

One significant change is to the requirement for travellers to apply for visas in person. In countries where there is no SA mission‚ the Department of Home Affairs will now receive applications‚ including by post‚ and capture biometrics of travellers on arrival at ports of entry such as SA’s three major airports.

In the next three months‚ Cabinet has mandated the Department to:

  • Implement the capturing of biometrics at ports of entry starting with a pilot project at OR Tambo‚ King Shaka and Cape Town airports‚
  • 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 3 months and up to 3 years for frequent travellers (for business meetings)‚ business people and academics‚
  • Principals will issue letters confirming permission for children to travel on school tours‚ and
  • Extend the validity of the parental consent affidavit to 6 months.

Within a year‚ the Department must:

  • Add visa facilitation centres‚ including in Zimbabwe‚ United Arab Emirates and Botswana‚
  • Consider a visa-waiver for India‚ China‚ Russia and other countries‚
  • Look at issuing visas on arrival for persons travelling to SA having in their passports valid visas for the UK‚ USA and Canada or any other country that applies stringent checks on visitors to their countries‚ to ease travel for tourists‚
  • Consider granting a certain category of frequent travellers (business and academics) from Africa a 10-year Multiple Entry Visitor’s Visa‚
  • Open two Business Visa Facilitation Centres in Durban and Port Elizabeth‚ in addition to the centre recently opened in Sandton‚
  • Print parents’ details in their passports so that they do not have to carry birth certificates.

In the long term‚ of one year and beyond‚ Cabinet wants the Department to:

  • Install systems for pre-flight checks at international airports‚
  • Upgrade Advance Passenger Processing systems and implement Passenger Name Record‚ to enhance risk assessment‚ and
  • Finalise automation of the visa and permitting system.

Child-travel requirements for outbound travelling will stay‚ including proof of “parental relations” through unabridged birth certificates‚ and‚ as necessary‚ parental consent.

For inbound travel where visas are required‚ it will still be required that original birth certificates and‚ as necessary‚ parental consent or certified copies are submitted during the visa application process.

Requirements regarding unaccompanied minors will also remain‚ like providing copies of the identity document or valid passport and visa or permanent residence permit of the person who is to receive an unaccompanied minor.

For visa-exempt countries a “strong advisory” will be issued‚ with travellers advised to have proof of relationship and consent from the absent parent/s or guardian/s‚ in case they are asked to provide such on arrival.

“These measures will ensure the balance between national security and economic interests of the country. Child safety will not be compromised‚” the Cabinet statement said.

The tourism industry has been reeling since the introduction of the contentious visa regulations last year‚ and had been fiercely lobbying the government to review them. The volume of tourists decreased by 9‚3% (from 672‚726 in June 2014 to 610‚092 in June 2015‚ Stats SA said.

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Visa regulations eased after tourism takes a knock