Tourism experts warn SA’s new child visa regime is confusing
Home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba’s announcement that minor children travelling to SA would only need to show full documentation "by exception" serves only to confuse travellers‚ says the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa).
Gigaba said on Tuesday that instead of requiring all foreign minors to carry documentation proving parental consent for travel‚ the home affairs department would instead strongly recommend that travellers carried this documentation.
"Our immigration officials will only insist on documentation by exception — in high-risk situations — rather than for all travellers‚ in line with practice by several other countries‚" he said. But Satsa was not convinced the announcement made the situation better.
The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates the sector contributed about 9.4% — or R413bn — to GDP in 2017 and employs 1.5-million people.
"Home affairs issued an obfuscated message that serves only to confuse travellers‚ much in the way it did when the regulation was first introduced three years ago‚" Satsa CEO David Frost said.
He said issuing an international travel advisory only in October‚ after Gigaba’s vague statements that an unabridged birth certificate may be requested by immigration officials on arrival‚ simply reintroduced the confusion the organisation fought many years to dispel.
Frost said this undermined comments by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week that he wanted to make it easier for foreigners to visit SA.
"Our position from the start has been that this draconian, heavy-handed and nonsensical policy to combat child trafficking has no place in the modern economy," he said.
"Rather‚ it should be dealt with through proper policing. Semantic changes to the regulation are not the solution."
The organisation said it believed the requirement to produce unabridged birth certificates must be eliminated immediately to ensure SA’s competitiveness as a tourism destination and remove any confusion around the requirements for foreign minors.
The Association of Southern African Travel Agents said it was also disappointed that SA minors would still be required to present unabridged birth certificates when travelling. CEO Otto de Vries said if the government wanted to stimulate the economy‚ these requirements needed to be scrapped for all travellers‚ including South Africans.
"The controversial requirement for travelling families has stifled outbound tourism‚ as it is making it difficult for local families to travel internationally. Why would you continue to apply a policy that will hamper and frustrate them?" said De Vries.
He urged the government to apply the new policy consistently and across the board. "Only applying the policy for international travellers would have no relevancy and creates inconsistency," he said.
"The stringent requirements were implemented to combat child trafficking. If the government only removes the requirement for international travellers‚ are they suggesting that only SA passport holders are guilty of child trafficking?"
The department also said it plans to implement a revised critical skills list by April 2019.
Gigaba said a three-year multiple entry visa would be introduced for frequent, trusted travellers to SA and a 10-year multiple entry visa would be available for business people and academics from Africa.
Business people from China and India would be issued with 10-year multiple entry visas, which they could attain via courier services instead of applying in person. "This arrangement is meant to attract business people and prospective investors," Gigaba said.
Ramaphosa announced the visa regime overhaul on Friday as part of the stimulus package to revive the economy.