Biometric data bottleneck to cause OR Tambo 'festive season havoc'

2016-10-24 08:45 - Selene Brophy
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Cape Town - South Africa's move to secure its borders by collecting biometrics data from international visitors on arrival has not been going well.

Reports of lengthy queues, at OR Tambo Airport in particular, as a result of the new immigration regulations are expected to cause major havoc during the upcoming December holidays.

The Board of Airline Representatives South Africa (BARSA) has called for urgent intervention and the immediate suspension of biometrics for the duration of the December holidays as the best way forward.

The implementation of the biometric requirement began in January 2016, as international passengers arriving in South Africa at OR Tambo International Airport now need to submit data as part of new immigration regulations to improve security.

However, BARSA says a shortage in trained immigration officials capable of capturing biometrics is leading to very lengthy delays for both South African and international travellers, even causing them to miss connections. 

'Budget constraints will need to be re-assessed before December' 

June Crawford, BARSA CEO says, “The decision by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) not to employ additional immigration staff due to budget constraints will need to be re-assessed before December.

“The DHA has taken the decision to revert to a 12-hour, four-group systems because they can no longer afford transport for their officials.”

BARSA says it continues to seek ways through various stakeholders to find a solution to this ongoing problem.

“The tourism industry is under duress during the busiest time of the year. In our view, the suspension of biometrics until after the peak season would be a short-term solution allowing for all parties to discuss the best way forward.”

Airlines have also been heavily impacted by the delays at OR Tambo. “In a bid to continue offering high customer service levels, several airlines have offered to pay for their passengers’ overnight accommodation when they’ve missed their connection despite it not being part of their obligations.”

'Delay costs being borne by airlines' 

What we are seeing says June, is that international airlines are arriving in Johannesburg on time, but as a result of the long two- to three-hour queues, passengers are missing their connections and are requesting hotel accommodation from the airline. “From a domestic airline perspective, the fact that passengers are missing their onward connections means the flights depart with empty seats. All these costs are currently being borne by the airlines.”

Airport bottlenecks have also had a detrimental effect on the handling of passengers’ baggage. The flights arrive; bags are placed on the belts and need to be taken off after an hour to make space for the next arriving flight.  “This not only adds costs for the airlines but they also see their service levels deteriorate.”

BARSA, as well as the Tourism Business Council of South Africa and Airports Company of South Africa, are actively engaging with the DHA to find a constructive way forward and resolve the situation before the December holiday crowds peak. 

The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) also confirmed it is in dialogue with the Department of Home Affairs about the new immigration regulations, especially in seeking solutions around delays and congestion of the biometric data system.

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.  

Added to this, 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. 

"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.

Have you experienced any delays or had any issues with biometric data? Email us at

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