The Department of Home Affairs has published its International Migration white paper, addressing the long talked about topic of a shared, “open border” passport among AU countries.
The shared passport forms part of the “AU Agenda 2063” which highlighted the importance of free movement by Africans in Africa for meaningful integration, and increased trade.
One of the seven overarching aspirations outlined in Agenda 2063 is “an integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan- Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance”.
The AU Agenda 2063 goes on to call for action to introduce an African passport, issued by member states, capitalising on the global migration towards e- passports, and the abolishment of visa requirements for all African citizens in all African countries by 2018.
Home Affairs indicates that it fully supports this vision and noted that the current passport system is “untenable”.
Eliminating visa requirements safely
“The movement of persons across national borders brings with it benefits and also creates risks that have to be mitigated by each country and multilaterally,” states the white paper.
It noted that South Africa has adopted a risk -based approach which advocates for an incremental removal of migration formalities for frequent and trusted travellers – including diplomats, officials, academics, business persons, students.
The South African envisaged policy position on the elimination of visa requirements for African citizens can be summarised as follows:
African citizens can enter visa free – with conditions
African citizens should enter South Africa visa-free as a starting point, on condition that returns agreements are agreed upon.
Visas should be required only where objective risks are identified – such as:
- Overstaying and deportation of foreign nationals (quantify the number per year which triggers consideration of visa implementation);
- Security risks (organised crime; terrorism; political instability);
- Civil registration risks (documents frequently obtained fraudulently; countries unable /unwilling to identify their nationals when requested); and
- Countries with a high number of nationals who abuse the asylum system.
The “visa-free regime”
According to the white paper, key elements of a visa-free regime would be:
- Visa-free entry of nationals for short visits up to 90 days;
- Recognition of visas for third parties (univisa concept) on condition that security measures are put in place by participating SADC member states. This should include the returns agreements for third country nationals;
- Agreed standards on immigration and border management;
- Agreed standards on civil registration;
- Returns agreement; and
- Sophisticated, real -time risk management, information and intelligence sharing.
Ease of access for “bona fide” travellers
Home Affairs noted that it was committed to helping bona fide travelers as much as possible. This would include:
- Standardising and expanding long-term multiple-entry visas for frequent travellers, business people, and academics;
- Identifying additional proxies for easy approval, e.g. degree from South African university, university degree generally, family members in South Africa, etc.;
- Developing a list of countries whose visa adjudication system and visas are recognised and trusted by South Africa; and
- Use of technology to establish trusted traveller schemes.
Understandably the white paper also discusses the difficult topic of the current influx of illegal immigrants from SADC countries as well as the issue of xenophobia.
“There will be strong migration flows between certain Southern African countries and South Africa as long as there are large differences in levels of development and other major push and pull factors,” it said.
“Nowhere in the world has a country with a stronger economy than its neighbours managed to exclude migrants effectively from neighbouring countries seeking work, especially within sectors that require lower levels of skills and are largely informal.”
As such, it proposes a staged roll-out of special dispensations for economic migrants from certain SADC countries.
“The special dispensations provide an opportunity for Zimbabwean and Lesotho nationals to regularise their stay in South Africa,” it said.
“Amnesty may be given to those who declare fraudulently acquired documents and who do not have criminal records. Such dispensations take different forms in different countries but in general they have both security and developmental objectives.”
“South Africa should expand its visa regime to cater for some carefully managed economic migration from immediate and regional neighbours. In doing so, there must be due regard for the shorter and longer term socio-economic impact in South Africa, and in migrants’ home countries.”
The white paper notes that this would include introduction of special visas for various categories of migrants from the region such as an SADC special work visa and the SADC traders’ visa.
It also indicated that it would enforces stronger labour and migration laws is critical to ensure that citizens are not disadvantaged by employers paying economic migrants lower wages.