Tourists asked to leave South Africa – Home Affairs ‘clarifies’ leaked directive

 ·19 Feb 2024

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has responded to reports saying his department is chasing tourists out of the country, saying the leaked directive has been misunderstood, and those with an extension application receipt will not be declared undesirable.

After weeks of silence over the leaked Department of Home Affairs memo to Border Management Authority (BMA) officials that caused concern among international visitors in South Africa, Motsoaledi has said this past week that South Africa is not chasing away its tourists.

The Department of Home Affairs issued a directive on 21 December 2023 that required tourists wishing to extend their stay in South Africa to leave the country at the end of February 2024 if their visa renewal outcomes aren’t received by 23 February 2024.

The directive was titled “Concession: extension of temporary concession in respect of foreign nationals in light of a continued backlog in processing outcomes on waiver applications, visa applications and appeal applications.

It noted that short-term visas that were issued in terms of section 11(1)(a) of the Immigration Act “for 90 days or less, up to and including 30 November 2023, who have applied for a renewal of the visa have not received the visa renewal outcome by 23 February 2024, must make the necessary arrangements to depart from South Africa on or before 29 February 2024 to avoid being declared an undesirable”.

An undesirable is any person who overstays in the Republic after the expiry of their visa and could, therefore, be forced to leave the country or even be banned from entry in the future.

During the State of the Nation Address debate, Motsoaledi took the opportunity to address the issue, saying that it has been misunderstood.

He said that for any tourists who have applied for a visa extension but have not yet received a response, the receipt is proof of an extension of their visa until they learn the outcome of their application.

“No one should arrest you while you have such a receipt, and no one can declare you undesirable.”

He said the directive was issued to guide new BMA officials at ports of entry simply to “remind” them of visa regulations that were already provided.

“In terms of the Immigration Act, people on visitors or tourist visas have between 30 and a maximum of 90 days to be in South Africa.

“If you renew for another 90 days, you will have a total of 180 days, after which the law allows no more extensions. This means you must leave the country, or else you will be declared undesirable,” said Motsoaledi.

“All visitors know that and have been practising that for ages without the department being accused of chasing away tourists,” he added.

Speaking with SAfm, Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille said that tourists who have already applied for visa extensions can stay until they have an outcome. Those who have not yet applied can still do so.

“So, the current position is that all the tourists that have applied for visa extension, if they have a receipt that they have applied, it’s (the memo) not applicable to them,” she said.

Despite the clarity on the situation, the CEO of the Southern African Tourism Services Association (SATSA), David Frost, said the ministers could have acted on and responded to the matter sooner.

“It would have been helpful if the minister had responded promptly and clarified the matter,” he said.

This would ensure that tourists visiting the country can receive the necessary information and make informed decisions, especially since vacations are planned in advance and require a certain level of certainty, he added.

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