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South African Immigration Regulations Update

Pretoria, South Africa, 12 August 2015: President Jacob Zuma has announced the establishment of an Inter-Ministerial Committee (“IMC”) to address the unintended consequences of the immigration regulations on various sectors, including tourism and investment. President Zuma made this announcement yesterday, during his mid-year State of the Nation Address (“SONA”) implementation update in Pretoria.

Commenting on the establishment of an Inter-Ministerial Committee announcement, the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) and the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) have expressed their views:

The TBCSA said in a press release that it has been vociferous in its call for a review of the implementation of two specific new immigration regulations which have a direct impact on the travel and tourism industry:
• the requirement for all children under the age of 18 exiting or entering the country to carry their unabridged birth certificates;
• the requirement for foreign nationals requiring visas to enter South Africa to make “in-person” visa applications at SA Foreign missions for biometric visa processing prior to departure from their country of residence.

Responding to the news, TBCSA CEO, Mmatšatši Ramawela said “We welcome the establishment of an IMC to address concerns regarding the implementation of the new immigration regulations. President Zuma first made mention of his intentions to have the regulations reviewed during his SONA address in February, so we have been anticipating this type of announcement for some time and are pleased to see that there is progress being made in this regard”.

Specific concerns which the industry has raised regarding the implementation of the new immigration regulations include:
• The level of readiness within the Department of Home Affairs and foreign missions to implement the new regulation efficiently and smoothly;

• Communication around the new requirements both amongst the South Africa public and internationally, especially to the people processing and facilitating travel – this include our foreign missions, airlines, travel facilitators, etc;

• The impact of the new regulations on South Africa’s tourist arrivals number so far and our overall global position as a top travel and tourism destination.

Ramawela further expressed the travel and tourism private sector’s wish to be afforded the opportunity to participate in this process and to make representations to the IMC. “The lack of extensive industry consultation is one of the issues which we believe has led to the current standoff between business and the Department of Home Affairs. Apart from leveraging on platforms afforded to us by organisations such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), we have never had the opportunity to make direct representations to the Minister of Home Affairs. However, through the IMC, we hope there will be an opportunity for us to share a travel and tourism private sector perspective on this important issue.”

The harm already caused as a result of the introduction of the new regulations remains a key concern for business, however many in the industry view the establishment of the IMC as a step in the right direction. “South African travel packages are being removed from various catalogues, tourism business performance levels and foreign tourist arrivals from some of our key markets have dropped. If we are going to find the means to address the harm that has already been caused by the current impasse on the new regulations, now is the time”, Ramawela said.

She reiterated that the industry fully supports Government’s initiative to strengthen the country’s security, especially taking measures to address the global scourge of child trafficking. “However, we feel that it needs to be done in a manner which does not result in unintended, negative consequences to the sector and the economy as a whole”.

In closing, Ramawela said the TBCSA would be watching the process closely as it unfolds and will stand ready to engage with the IMC should it be called to do so.

News from THE FRONT (SATSA)

Commenting on the visa regulation issue in his report to members (11 August 2015), David Frost, CEO of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) said “The ‘good news’ is that the Inter-Ministerial Committee to examine the impact of the visa regulations was to be chaired by Minister Gigaba. Gigaba has now been removed and the Deputy President (Cyril Ramaphosa – Ed) will chair the committee.

What is of concern is the relentless PR campaign that Home Affairs continues to wage. Last week they trotted the Statistician General out. He was attempting to paint a picture of tourism in decline before the visa regulations came into effect. In a media statement and briefing, Stats SA reported that tourism arrivals increased by just 0,1% between 2013 and 2014. However, this calculation failed to take Stats SA’s own change in reporting format into account, which was enforced from April 2014 onwards.

In April 2014, Statistics SA implemented a change in definition, which correctly saw transit tourists no longer included in tourist arrivals. Effectively, this means that in order to compare apples with apples, transit tourists need to be excluded from the data prior to this date. If this adjustment is made, tourist arrivals in fact increased by 7,5% in 2014 when compared with 2013, and not 0,1% as reported by Stats SA. The real fall-off occurs in the last four months of 2014, when the requirement for in-person applications kicked in. Arrivals from China declined 46,5% in the last four months.

This is the fourth instance where incorrect data has been presented in order to mislead the public in an attempt to rally support for Home Affairs’ controversial new visa regulations. Firstly, we had the bogus figure of 30 000 children trafficked in SA every year which has since been whittled down to 23 over the last three years. Next, Home Affairs spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete compared traveller data and not tourist arrival figures, from February with those of March, which does not provide a meaningful comparison given that the first month is much shorter than the second, not to mention the impact of the Easter holidays. Finally, at a recent WESGRO workshop, the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Fatima Chohan, claimed that less than 1% of tourists travel with their families. If the Deputy Minister’s assertion is true it would mean that on average, only one family of three people travels on every 300-passenger wide-body flight into the country, which is clearly not the case. The correct figure is closer to 20%, if not more.

The reality is that for the first eight months of 2014, prior to the advent of the new regulations, overseas arrivals grew by 5.6%. However, in the last quarter of the year, following their enforcement, they declined by 1,5%. This has continued into 2015, with overseas arrivals down nearly 10,7% for the first four months of the year. The impact on markets such as China and Russia continue the freefall seen in the last part of 2014, down 37% and 46%, respectively.

It is my hope, that once the Inter-Ministerial committee is convened, evidence submitted will be considered carefully, and assessed in terms of its accuracy before decisions are made. This evidence is increasingly pointing towards the disastrous consequences of these regulations, not only in terms of the tourism industry, but the broader economy too.”

For all the up to date information on the visa war – check out the SATSA website at www.satsa.com, which includes last week’s ‘Judge for Yourself’ television show with Prof. Dennis Davis.