SA unveils visa reforms to boost tourism, investment

Gigaba simplifies some entry requirements – but confusion remains over rules for minors

Home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba unveils new regulations
Home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba unveils new regulations
Image: GCIS

The government has announced visa reforms aimed at luring investment and tourists to help lift South Africa out of recession.

Home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba unveiled a raft of regulations, including a three-year‚ multiple-entry visa for frequent, trusted travellers to SA and a 10-year visa for business people and academics from Africa.

The rules will take effect from October.

“Changes to our visa architecture have the potential to boost tourism and make business travel more conducive,” Gigaba said.

“We are simplifying visa requirements for countries such as China and India.”

Applicants from those two countries will be able to have a 10-year visa processed within five days.

“This arrangement is meant to attract business people and prospective investors,” he said.

Anti-trafficking rules requiring parents to travel with the birth certificates of their children will be simplified, he said.

“The key changes will be that‚ rather than requiring all foreign national travelling minors to carry documentation proving parental consent for the travelling minor to travel‚ we will rather strongly recommend that travellers carry this documentation‚” Gigaba said.

“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.

“Rather than denying entry where documentation is absent‚ travellers will be given an opportunity to prove parental consent. South African minors will still be required to prove parental consent when leaving our borders.”

Gigaba said the changes would be implemented in time for the festive season‚ when many people would be travelling with children.

However, three tourism bodies have criticised the changes for travelling minors as not going far enough.

Tourism contributes 10% of SA’s gross domestic product.

Visa reforms are part of an economic stimulus plan announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday to boost investor confidence after SA entered a recession in the second quarter of this year.

Foreign students‚ business people and frequent visitors are among those who will benefit from the new rules.

“Business people from Brics countries [Brazil‚ Russia‚ India‚ China and SA] who require visas‚ like China and India‚ are issued a 10-year‚ multiple-entry visa within five days of application. This is meant to attract business people and prospective investors‚” Gigaba said.

SA will also grant permanent residency or critical skills visas to foreign students who graduate at South African institutions of higher learning within critical skills categories.

This‚ Gigaba said‚ would help the country retain critical skills to enhance economic development‚ growth‚ employment and transformation.

The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association criticised Gigaba’s announcement that minor children travelling to SA would only need to show full documentation “by exception”, saying it served only to confuse travellers‚

“Home affairs issued an obfuscated message that serves only to confuse travellers‚ much in the way it did when the regulation was first introduced‚” the association’s CEO, David Frost, said.

“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,” Frost said.

“Rather‚ it should be dealt with through proper policing.”

The association said the requirement to produce unabridged birth certificates should be eliminated in its entirety.

However‚ it welcomed moves to introduce visa waivers for certain source markets.

“We would have liked to have seen an immediate visa David Frost waiver for visitors from the Middle East and New Zealand‚ a source market that has seen a decline of 30% in arrivals since visas were introduced.”

The Association of Southern African Travel Agents said it was disappointed that SA minors would still be required to present unabridged birth certificates when travelling.

CEO Otto de Vries said that if the government wanted to stimulate the economy‚ the requirements for unabridged birth certificates needed to be scrapped for all travellers‚ including South Africans.

The Tourism Business Council of SA also said the relaxing of entry requirements for foreign minors did not go far enough.