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SA’s Visa Immigration Debacle Rages on

The visa requirement for unabridged birth certificates for minors entering South Africa is due to come into effect on 01 June 2015, and the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) is appealing to the inbound travel trade to unite and demand that the birth certificate requirements be abolished in their entirety, writes Des Langkilde.

“The visa regulations are being imposed without due consideration of our sector and will result in significant losses to our industry. Firstly, we are the only country in the world following this (birth certificate) path and there are far more sophisticated, multi-agency measures that are required to tackle the scourge of child trafficking, which, by the way, is not a major security threat! Secondly, we appreciate the need for enhanced security with respect to biometric data, but this could best be captured on arrival. This will be far more cost effective and will not have the devastating effect on tourism numbers we have already witnessed out of China and India,” says David Frost, CEO of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA).

Reflecting on the beleaguered process involved in dealing with the South African Department of Home Affairs to date, Frost cites the following actions:

March 2014
• Regulations gazetted in the Government Gazette (missed by everyone in tourism – including South Africa’s own Tourism Ministry and Department).

June 2014
• Regulations formally announced. (Read more: ‘SA Tourism Minister Broaches Immigration Debacle‘ Editor).

July 2014
• The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) and other key stakeholders write to Minister Gigaba requesting a meeting – receipt of letters acknowledged – but no response.
• TBCSA commissions a Grant Thornton report on potential impact of regulations.
• Minister Hanekom meets with Minister Gigaba, resulting in a joint press statement stating there will be no need for supporting documentation or translations of birth certificates.

September 2014
• Meeting secured with Minister of Home Affairs by CEO SATSA – leads to meeting with Minister Gigaba early October. Grant Thorton report presented – no response to the report at all to date. (Read more: ‘New South African Visa Regulations Postponed‘ Editor).

October 2014
• Minister Gigaba announces postponement of implementation of birth certificates until 1st June 2015 and establishment of a tourism task force to look into the implementation of the regulations.
• No formal meeting of the task force – although TBCSA secures informal meeting with DDG of Home Affairs.
• Minister Gigaba reneges on deal struck with Minister Hanekom and now official copy of birth certificates as well as supporting documentation required. (Read more: ‘TBCSA Immigration Report Leaked‘ Editor).

February 2015
• State of the Nation address – President Zuma announces a review to balance interests of tourism and security.

March 2015
• Official stats released show 50% drop from China in last four months of 2014 and 15% drop from India – directly attributable to threat of implementation of in-person biometric visa applications. (Read more: ‘SA Tourism Stats finally released‘ Editor).

April 2015
• No review process clarified yet, despite letters requesting this from TBCSA.
• TBCSA commissions new Grant Thornton report (quantifying actual damage and reviewing international best practice that does not harm tourism).

“In summary – in a fully functioning democracy, despite numerous requests and letters, the tourism sector, which represents 9% of South Africa’s economy, has not been able to table its position on any of these regulations with Home Affairs in the year since the process began. We have been actively snubbed by Home Affairs and when interaction has occurred it has been with no debate, discussion nor ability to raise our concerns. The fabled task team announced by Minister Gigaba has never been formally convened despite ongoing pressure from TBCSA.

We have, through this process, forged a close working relationship with our Minister Hanekom and his senior team and NDT and SA Tourism. He is fundamentally opposed to the regulations in their current form and is working through the Economics Cluster within Cabinet. We will continue to oppose these damaging moves by Home Affairs,” concludes Frost.

Diarise the date: The 2015 SATSA Conference will take place at Fancourt in George from 13th – 15th August this year.