The Departments of Home Affairs and Tourism have recently updated stakeholders on progress made on the implementation of concessions that the SA Cabinet had made last year to ease the implementation of the amended immigration legislation and regulations.

These concessions were announced to address the concerns raised by stakeholders, especially those in the tourism sector. Cabinet had appointed an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) to look at the concerns and come up with recommendations on how best to proceed in the interest of all.

The Departments held a briefing session with key stakeholders in Sandton in December 2015 wherein the concessions were clarified, and timelines clearly outlined, to ensure there was no confusion on the process. It was at that session that concessions to be delivered within the first three months following Cabinet’s announcement were unpacked.

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. 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 actions that were to be taken in the immediate phase, within the first three months that followed the Cabinet decision, (that is, from 1 November 2015 to 31 January 2016), 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 3 months and up to 3 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,
Extend the validity of the parental consent affidavit to 6 months.

With the support from partners, the Department of Home Affairs has delivered on all these concessions. This was within the recommended timeline, of three months.

Implementation and capturing of biometrics at ports of entry

The implementation and capturing of biometrics at ports of entry took off, and with success, at the ports of entry that were selected for the pilot project phase, that is, OR Tambo International Airport, King Shaka International Airport and Cape Town International Airport.

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba launched this pilot project, on biometric capturing, at OR Tambo International Airport on 15 December 2015. This was after the Department of Home Affairs had developed, in November 2015, electronic Movement Control System (eMCS) Biometric fingerprint capability at ports of entry.

The pilot was implemented 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 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.

Introduction of Accredited Tourism Company Programme

The National Department of Tourism (NDT) is the lead department in respect of the accreditation of tourism companies. This is for countries like China, India and Russia. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the DHA and the NDT was signed in December 2015. In terms of the MOU, the NDT would identify and accredit tour operators and provide DHA with a list of such operators.

The NDT has confirmed that the management of the tourism sector in China is highly regulated and therefore tourism operators are already accredited by the said Government. Last month, the NDT provided a list of tour operators in China which have been accredited by Chinese state authorities and the NDT.

And thus, on 29 January 2016, Minister Gigaba had 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. 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.

The NDT is undertaking research in relation to the accreditation of service providers in India and Russia.

Introduction of long-term Multiple Entry Visa

The issuance of 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. A 10-year visa waiver for business executives from BRICS’ countries is 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 served as a 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, with concessions falling under 3 months to 1 year).

Letters for travel to be issued by school principals, in respect of SA children

The Department of Home Affairs has developed a standardised template for school principals to complete and issue, to confirm permission for South African children to travel on school tours, in lieu of individual parent consent forms. The template is on DHA’s Website. Standard Operating Procedures have been developed and staff members have also been informed of this change.

The Department has taken additional steps to facilitate the travel of South African sports teams abroad. In this regard, the Department of Sports & Recreation has been consulted and has accordingly provided a list of 75 accredited sports federations. Home Affairs has prepared individual letters for the identified sports federations informing them of the agreement between the two Departments to facilitate the travel of sports teams abroad on the basis of an affidavit, to be provided by the respective federation. Such letters were accompanied by sample affidavits and a request to federations to submit particulars of persons authorised to issue the affidavits.

Extension of validity of parental consent affidavit to 6 months

As recommended, the Parental Consent Affidavit has been extended from 4 to 6 months. The DHA Website has been updated accordingly.

Re-examination of Transit Visa requirements

The successful implementation of biometric capturing at key ports of entry has formed the basis for the review of the Transit Visa requirements. Given this review, from 18 December 2015 travellers transiting through Lanseria, King Shaka, Cape Town and OR Tambo airports will 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.

Issuance of a Travel Advisory

The Department of Home Affairs is actively engaged with the implementation of the proposed review of the regulations regarding the issuing of a Travel Advisory. This is to address the recommendation on the issuing of a strong advisory for travellers accompanied by minors from countries which are visa-exempt, to ensure compliance with Unabridged Birth Certificate-related directives. After consultations on this matter, it was determined that the best way to give legal force to this advisory would be to amend the Immigration Regulations. Home Affairs is working jointly with the NDT, to ensure the regulations are amended accordingly.

Having implemented all of the recommendations made by the IMC that fall within its control, the Department of Home Affairs will now focus on giving effect to the measures falling in the next phase (3 months to 1 year), which are to,

Add visa facilitation centres, including in Zimbabwe, United Arab Emirates and Botswana,
Consider a visa-waiver for India, China, Russia and other countries,
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,
Consider granting a certain category of frequent travellers (business and academics) from Africa a 10 year Multiple Entry Visitor’s Visa [Achieved]
Open two Business Visa Facilitation Centres in Durban and Port Elizabeth, in addition to the centre recently opened in Sandton,
Print parents’ details in their passports so that they do not have to carry birth certificates.

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. Minister Malusi Gigaba is happy that this matter is being handled in collaboration with stakeholders.

The media in South Africa have also played their role, by keeping this important matter on the public discourse, objectively and otherwise. The bottom line though is that this is our South Africa; it is for all of us to move it towards the better life we have envisioned for all our people in the National Development Plan, Vision 2030.

I thank you.