SENIOR officials from the Department of Home Affairs held a meeting on Friday with South Africa’s tourism sector players regarding progress in the implementation of immigration concessions aimed at easing travel in and out of South Africa.
Some these include working on adding visa facilitation centres in countries such as Zimbabwe, United Arab Emirates and Botswana. A visa waiver was also being considered for China, Russia and other countries.
“Today’s stakeholder engagement with some of the tourism sector players was therefore convened to update on progress and to look at the next set of concessions achievable within a year,” home affairs director-general Mkuseli Apleni said in Pretoria after the meeting.
“Such was a frank and fruitful engagement with ideas shared on further enhancing implementation. The general consensus is that we are indeed on course, with notable progress being made.”
The concessions were made by Cabinet last year to ease the implementation of the amended immigration legislation and regulations.
Cabinet made the these concessions following an outcry by tourism sector players, who claimed that the amended immigration regulations were stifling the sector.
An inter-ministerial committee (IMC) was then established to consider the sector’s concerns. The IMC was also mandated to make recommendations on how to proceed on the matter balancing security and tourism interests.
On Friday, Apleni said that as from January 29, 2016, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba had waived the requirement to apply for a port of entry visa in person for Chinese travellers who are moving as part of a group.
“Accredited Chinese tour operators will apply on behalf of such travellers, on condition that the biometric data of the travellers will be taken on arrival in and on departure from South Africa. A Standard Operating Procedure guiding this application process was prepared, approved and communicated to all foreign missions and staff,” said Apleni.
He said the department of tourism was doing research in relation to the accreditation of service providers in India and Russia.
On the introduction of long-term multiple entry visas for frequent travellers, Apleni said the issuance of such visitors’ visas for a period exceeding three months and up to three years for business people and academics, had already been implemented.
A 10-year visa waiver for business executives from BRICS countries was also available, since December 2014, allowing such executives to remain in the Republic for 30 days at a time.
“Further, in line with its commitment to ensure that immigration serves as vehicle for enhancing economic growth, on 29 January 2016, the Minister of Home Affairs approved the granting of 10-year multiple entry visas to business and academics from Africa. This measure was to be implemented in the next phase (of the concessions),” said Apleni.
He said after a review, as from December 18, 2015, travellers transiting through Lanseria, King Shaka, Cape Town and OR Tambo airports did not require Transit Visas.
“The old saying – patience is a virtue – is clearer now. The department had earlier pleaded for some space to do what needed to be done within the framework of what is permissible in law. We trust that this measure will enhance travel to SA and the region,” added Apleni.
Government was also considering issuing visas on arrival for people travelling into South Africa, having in their passports valid visas from the United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada and other countries “that apply stringent checks on visitors to their countries, to ease the travel for tourists”.
The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) said it hoped the concessions closed the chapter of an “arduous” period between government and the tourism sector.
“I need to go back and we need to share these findings with our constituencies and get their opinion. Let me just say, I want to commend home affairs because very good progress has been made here. I think what we are hearing from the DG (Apleni) is really striking that balance between the need for state security and the economic drive for tourism in our country,” SATSA chief executive David Frost said.
“What we see here is a whole lot of ready, well thought-out and very tactical measures that are going to allow for ease of travel for people coming into the country. For that we are incredibly grateful. There is a lot of work that has been done here.”
Home affairs had held a previous briefing session with key tourism stakeholders in Sandton at the end of 2015 where the Cabinet concessions were clarified and timelines for implementation were outlined.
The concessions announced on Friday were the first batch to be delivered within three months of the Cabinet decision. – ANA