SA to relax visa rules after tourism industry suffers

Industry leaders have said the new rules are costing around $540 million a year in lost revenue.

Home Affairs.  Picture: Chrsta Eybers/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa will make its new visa rules easier for visitors with children and those from India, China and Russia, after tourism numbers dropped this year, the government said on Friday.

Industry leaders have said the new rules are costing around $540 million a year in lost revenue by making it more complicated for foreigners, drawn by natural attractions such as the Kruger National Park, Table Mountain and the Sterkfontein Caves, to visit.

South Africa's cabinet accepted recommendations from a committee appointed by President Jacob Zuma in August to look at the rules' impact, the Department of Home Affairs said in a statement.

A rule requiring a parent to carry a child's unabridged birth certificate when visiting South Africa will be relaxed to allow the original or a certified copy to be shown just at the visa application stage, the department said.

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said in July the rules had to be relaxed after a "worrying drop" in visitor numbers, but Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba argued at the time that they were needed to guard against child trafficking.

Visitor numbers from China dropped sharply because prospective visitors had to appear at the South African embassy or consulate in person, which could require a long trek.

The department promised to "ease the process of application, in particular for tourists," from countries like China, India and Russia.

These could include a long-term multiple entry visa for over three months and up to three years for frequent travellers, the department said.

South Africa is considering a visa-waiver for India, China, Russia and other countries and visas on arrival for visitors who have valid visas for Britain, the United States, Canada or other countries that apply stringent checks.

In the next three months,

• Implement the capturing of biometrics at ports of entry starting with a pilot 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 three months and up to three 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 six months.

Within a year,

• 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; and

• Print parents' details in their passports so that they do not have to carry birth certificates.

In the long term, one year and beyond,

• 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.

It says these measures will ensure the balance between national security and economic interests of the country, without compromising child safety.