New changes to SA visa rules 'half-hearted'

2016-10-14 07:32 - Selene Brophy
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Cape Town - The state has tabled a First Draft Amendment of its immigration regulations, as recommended by the inter-ministerial committee appointed to address the issues it has created for travellers to South Africa since its implementation in 2015.

However, the new changes to the immigration regulations made under the Immigration Act by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) have caused even more sour grapes within the tourism industry, government departments and opposition parties.

The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) says it is in dialogue with the Department of Home Affairs about the new immigration regulations, especially in seeking solutions to four key concerns that it says is affecting tourism businesses.

The specific challenges are:   

1. Delays and congestion, particularly at OR Tambo International Airport, as a result of the implementation of the biometric data system;

2. The provision of visas for students coming into the country for purposes of foreign language training;

3. The requirement for accommodation establishments to keep record of their guests’ identity documents (IDs); 

4. The requirement for Unabridged Birth Certificates (UBCs) for visitors coming from visa-exempt countries.

TBCSA Chief Executive Officer, Mmatšatši Ramawela confirmed she would be meeting with Director-General, Mkuseli Apleni to specifically discuss the urgent matter of delays and congestion at the OR Tambo International Airport.  

Apleni's office has yet to supply a suitable date.

SEE: eVisas: 'Cut the red tape and roll out the red carpet’

"Our overall objective is to come up with lasting solutions that will provide certainty and will restore trade confidence in destination South Africa. We view government as a key partner and role-player in this process and firmly believe that they are equally committed to the process of robust and constructive dialogue on these matters as we are," says Ramawela.

The DA has expressed its concern that the recently tabled draft does nothing to address the loss of jobs in the tourism industry.

'Half-hearted attempt to address problems'

"The Draft First Amendment is nothing more than a half-hearted attempt to address the serious problems with the current regulations and will result in the ultimate contraction of the tourism industry," says DA Spokesperson for Tourism James Vos.

Vos has called the draft, "error-ridden", with a "few provisions have lazily been shifted around, in what can only be seen as an attempt to create the illusion of the DHA’s willingness to engage with criticism of its policies".

The contentious requirement that parents traveling to South Africa with their children must produce an unabridged birth certificate (UBC) has not been removed.

"Rather than actually change the regulations, it seems that the Department only reorganised the clauses, whilst the requirements essentially stay the same."

Vos says, the issues with Business Visas, as well as Corporate and Work Visas have not been addressed. 

"The requirements place strict barriers to entry for foreigners who want to do business in South Africa. This makes it more laborious to invest in South Africa, or to attract foreign talent to our country." 

The DA will be making a public submission to the DHA on the proposed amendments, as well Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, as Chairperson of the Interministerial Committee on visa regulations, to withdraw the current and proposed regulations and be replaced by electronic visas. 

SEE: SA's visa rules in review: 5 key developments to keep an eye on

"Tourism can be used as an effective tool to create jobs, provide opportunities for small businesses, promote livelihoods for communities and bring South Africans together to share experiences. For every 12 tourists that visit South Africa, one job is created. The Immigration Regulations therefore put tourism job opportunities at risk," says Vos.

The TBCSA also contacted the Deputy President in his capacity as Convener of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Immigrations, saying that it was necessary for IMC’s intervention to assist with the challenges, with a face-to-face meeting.

Other actions undertaken by the TBCSA to address the current impasse on the regulations includes representations to the Immigrations Advisory Board (IAB), engaging the broader business community through BUSA structures and consolidating industry inputs in response to a government gazette on the Draft First Amendment of the Immigration Regulations. 

Immigration rules putting SA economy at risk

Ramawela says while TBCSA is doing all it can to ensure that these issues are resolved and is not insensitive to business’ eagerness to see a quick resolution, it has distances itself from all talk of legal action to force government to scrap the requirement for the submission of unabridged birth certificates for minors travelling into and out of the country.    

“Our overall objective is to come up with lasting solutions that will provide certainty and will restore trade confidence in destination South Africa.  We view government as a key partner and role-player in this process and firmly believe that they are equally committed to the process of robust and constructive dialogue on these matters as we are," says Ramawela

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