Opposition parties and the tourism industry have been criticising government for several months after some severe changes to immigration regulations by the Department of Home Affairs last year. Some of the regulations required parents or guardians travelling with minors to produce an unabridged birth certificate at ports of entry. At the time, tourism stakeholders said this would impact negatively on tourism.
Addressing the media in Pretoria, Home Affairs Director-General Mkuseli Apleni said his department remains committed to easing the implementation of the amended immigration legislation and regulations.
“We are hard at work to fully implement these concessions, understanding this to be in the interest of the country, its citizens and other persons. The general consensus is that we are indeed on course, with notable progress being made,” he said.
Government news agency SAnews.gov.za quotes David Frost, the Chief Executive Officer of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA), saying Home Affairs made good progress to implement the concessions that Cabinet made last year to ease the implementation of the amended immigration legislation and regulations.
“I want to commend the Department of Home Affairs for the work done. This is an incredible process,” he said. Frost said the new developments will end the differences that existed between the sector and the Department of Home Affairs.
Yet, opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) is not that impressed. Shadow Minister of Tourism James Vos said the news that government will be relaxing some of “the job-killing visa regulations it introduced last year does not go far enough to restore South Africa as a tourist friendly destinations”.
He says in stead of announcing an E-visa system in line with the recommendations by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the DHA merely noted that it would be considering the idea of issuing visas on arrival in the coming months.
“Meanwhile the concession by the DHA to do away with the unabridged birth certificate requirement for minors whose passports contain the full details of both parents will have no benefit to those who do not possess these updated passports,” says Vos.
In a bid to address concerns raised by the tourism sector, Cabinet appointed an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) to look at the concerns and come up with recommendations on how best to proceed in the best interests of all.
A briefing session with key stakeholders was held in December in Sandton, where the concessions were clarified, and timelines clearly outlined to ensure there was no confusion on the process.
The actions that were to be taken in the immediate phase, within the first three months that followed the Cabinet decision, were to:
- implement the capturing of biometrics at ports of entry, starting with a pilot at OR Tambo, King Shaka and Cape Town airports;
- look at introducing an Accredited Tourism Company Programme for countries like China, India and Russia;
- consider a long-term multiple entry visa for a period exceeding three months and up to three years for frequent travellers for business meetings, business people and academics;
- ensure that principals issue letters confirming permission for children to travel on school tours, and
- extend the validity of the parental consent affidavit to six months.