Derek Hanekom puts Visas back on Agenda

Tourism Minister, Derek Hanekom, is set to meet the Home Affairs Minister, Malusi Gigaba, to put South Africa’s problematic visa regime back in the national agenda.

Dealing with visa issues would be a top priority in coming months, Hanekom said. He said he already had a date for “a robust engagement” with Home Affairs and he was “quite hopeful that we will be able to address some of the visa issues”. “We think the situation has changed, because we have a President who really sees the importance of tourism and who is going to be supportive,” he said.

Hanekom suggested that Gigaba might have a different perspective during this tenure as Finance Minister. “While being the Minister of Finance, he was able to look at the economy very seriously, knowing very well that unless we do all sorts of smart things, we are not going to get economic growth. So I think things have changed somewhat. He has already indicated a real interest in expanding online visa applications and also (to increase) more visas on arrivals. So that will all form part of the discussions”.

Minister Hanekom criticised the Department of Home Affairs’ decision in December 2016, during Gigaba’s first tenure as Minister, to impose reciprocal visas on New Zealand visitors. This was in response to New Zealand’s announcement in October 2016 to impose visas on South African’s travelling to that country. “The notion of reciprocal visa requirements is unwise to say the least. It’s not very smart to retaliate”.

Hanekom mentioned an example that Russian arrivals to South Africa in 2017 had increased by more that 50% after Russia was granted a visa waiver to SA, where arrivals from New Zealand declined by 17%. He cited that this was “for no other reason that the visa requirement”.

Minister Hanekom also said he would table South Africa’s requirement for unabridged birth certificates, which he said, was “costing South Africa heavily”. “Even the little bit of advance that we have made in China and India by not requiring people to go in person to collect their visas, is not enough. We need to do a lot more. It is still too difficult to get visas for South Africa. We also need to pay attention to the three-month limitation on visas and we need to pay attention to the long (immigration) queues at airports,” Hanekom said. He said addressing all these issues would make a huge difference in bringing more tourism to the country.

-Nadene van der Mescht

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