SA's visa rules in review: 5 key developments to keep an eye on

2016-02-05 22:07 - Selene Brophy
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Cape Town – South Africa has seen 18 months of visa requirement confusion and delays in implementation, believed to have affected tourism growth and forcing Cabinet to appoint an Inter-ministerial Committee to review the overall process - as a result these five developments could be the light at the end of the visa-turmoil tunnel.

On Friday Director-General of the Department of Home Affairs, Mkuseli Apleni held a briefing, detailing the progress of the implementation of Cabinet's concessions on SA's immigration regulations.

Apleni outlined a short-term plan for the DHA, set to be phased in over the next year that is considerably favourable to improving travel to South Africa and seeks to remove unnecessary, time-consuming admin and undue visa application process. 

Here are the five developments from Apleni's briefing that travellers, both local and international, need to keep an eye on:

1. Travelling with minors: Update to passport

While the visa requirements for minors have been the blemish on the face of a generally noble aim to improve security at South Africa's ports of entry and protect children both entering and leaving the country - the process has been marred by confusion.

The DHA said going forward, South African passports for minors will now detail both parents particulars, and that this would be the accepted document instead of the unabridged birth certificate, when travelling. The process however, still needs to be rolled out. 

While South Africa has two versions of the birth certificate, an abridged (issued for new-borns up until 2013) and an unabridged birth certificate detailing both parents details (issued to all new-borns since 2014) - this requirement has not been scrapped, since all parents need to apply for it when registering their babies, the department said. The department has phased out the abridged or temporary visa and going forward the unabridged birth certificate will simply be called the birth certificate. 

READ: DHA: 0.6% foreign minors turned back during SA 2015 festive season

The passport inclusion for minors will only be implemented in new passports issued, after the roll out phase between the next 3 to 12 months, as it will become the recognised travel document for minors. This does not mean that parents who have applied for the birth certificate should apply for a passport - They should stick to the birth certificate as a form of travel identification and only do a passport application when the passport needs to be renewed. All other consent and affidavit forms still apply when only one parent is travelling or the minor is travelling alone.

Apleni also confirmed the DHA would be extending the validity period of Parental Consent Affidavits from 3 to 6 months. School tours travel for minors will also see a formalised template being made available on the DHA website, allowing Principals to confirm permission for children to travel on school tours has been granted. While the department did not state this, it must be understood that this would be in addition to the individual parent consent processes of the school.

Added to this, the department said international visitors who have gone through the process of applying for a visa in order to enter South Africa, would not be required to provide birth certificate identification provided both parents are travelling with the minor, since that country's visa security checks would include birth certificate proof. Parents of minors from visa exempt countries are however strongly advised to travel with the birth certificate, should it be requested by immigration officials - the department intends to issue a Travel Advisory to this extent, saying the best way to give legal force to this advisory would be to amend the Immigration Regulations.

"Home Affairs is working jointly with the National Department of Tourism, to ensure the regulations are amended accordingly,” Apleni said.

2. Ease of access for regular travellers and 10-year Multiple Entry Visitor’s Visa option for African travellers

The department said a long-term multiple entry visitor’s visa for a period exceeding 3 months and up to 3 years for frequent travellers (for business meetings), business people and academics, has already been implemented.  

In the next 12 months it would look to implement what could easily be the first step towards Africa's equivalent to the US Visa, by rewarding certain category of frequent travellers (business and academics) from Africa extended multiple entry visas for a period of up to 10 years. 

3. BRICS countries visa benefits through Accredited Tourism Company Programme for countries 

The DHA is looking at introducing an Accredited Tourism Company Programme for countries like China, India and Russia - as well as considering a long-term Multiple Entry Visa for a period exceeding 3 months and up to 3 years for frequent travellers (for business meetings), business people and academics.

Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba on 29 January approved an Accredited Tourism Company Programme for China, with the Department of National Tourism confirming research showing that the tourism sector in China is highly regulated and therefore tourism operators are already accredited by the said Government.  

READ: 6 Unintended things about your passport that could see you booted back home

The department has waived the requirement to apply for a port of entry visa in-person for Chinese travellers who are travelling as part of a tour group - subject to a Standard Operating Procedure that the DHA says has been communicated to all foreign missions and staff. 

"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,” Apleni said.

The Department of Tourism is currently researching the same group tour accreditation process for India and Russia.

4. Visa on arrival for travellers with UK, USA, Canadian visas or any other country with stringent visa control

The Department of Home Affairs said it would 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. This process is expected to be rolled out within the next 12 months.

READ: UK deportation dilemma: Indefinite Leave to Remain 101

 5. Biometrics roll-out and Re-examination of Transit Visa requirements  

South Africa is well on its way to implementing biometric data capturing at key points of entry with pilot projects put in place after the Department of Home Affairs developed an electronic Movement Control System (eMCS) Biometric fingerprint capability at ports of entry in November 2015.  

SEE:  Biometric data collection to be implemented at OR Tambo

The biometric pilot is in place at Lanseria (using 2 counters initially, and currently 5 counters), King Shaka (5 counters), Cape Town (4 counters initially, currently 8) and OR Tambo (8 counters in the Transit Area). From January 2016, training has been provided to immigration officials for the eMCS by the Department’s Learning Academy, to ensure efficient use and management of the system. Training is ongoing as additional counters/ports are enabled for biometric capturing, the DHA said.

The successful implementation of biometric capturing at key ports of entry has formed the basis for the review of the Transit Visa requirements, the DHA said. "Given this review, from 18 December 2015 travellers transiting through Lanseria, King Shaka, Cape Town and OR Tambo airports will not require Transit Visas," Apleni confirmed.