The Department of Home Affairs has published an amendment to the Immigration Act which is set to have major implications for immigrants, tourism and the economy.
The changes – which will come into effect from 1 December – were first mooted as part of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s economic stimulus package revealed in September.
Arguably the biggest change will be the reversal of a rule introduced by former Home Affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba, which required foreign minors travelling to South Africa to produce an unabridged birth certificate before being allowed access into the country.
This birth certificate requirement has been a major point of controversy, with a 2016 report released by the DA finding that the rule cost the country as much as R7.5 billion due to lost business from blocked tourists.
Other changes include:
Revised rules for spouses entering the country as part of a permanent homosexual or heterosexual relationship.
Revised rules for applicants of a general work, business, and corporate visas.
Changes for applicants of permanent residency or residency on other grounds.
More changes expected
While these changes are likely to be welcomed, they form only a small part of the proposed immigration changes expected to be introduced in the coming months.
Prior to his resignation former Home Affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba, said that visitors from India and China will also not have to apply for visas in person at a South African embassy, while business travellers from those nations will be issued with 10-year multiple-entry visas within five days of application.
Other proposed changes include the relaxation of rules for other countries, with visitors from the UK, US, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Russia and Angola expected to be exempted.
The government also plans to smooth the clearance of travellers through the busiest border posts, by installing a biometric movement-control system. The new system is nearing completion, with several pilot sites already up and running.
Cannon Asset Managers investment analyst, Tlotliso Phakisi, said that the urgent amendment of South Africa’s stifling visa regime could be the quick fix needed to drag the country out of the economic doldrums.
“Introduced under Gigaba’s leadership, the tourism industry has been hamstrung for a number of years by unfriendly visa requirements that have negatively impacted the number of tourists entering the country,” he said.
“In particular, the controversial requirement that visitors travelling with children under the age of 18 years provide their unabridged birth certificates (UBC) upon entering or exiting has proven especially damaging to tourism numbers.”
Citing figures from the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), Phakisi said that over 13,246 travellers were prevented from entering the country between June 2015 and June 2016 after failing to meet the UBC requirements – losing the country many millions in potential revenue.
“Despite this, however, tourism has been one of the few sectors in the country to consistently show promise and resilience in terms of both job creation and economic growth over the past few years, demonstrating its potential as the lever needed for turning things around in the short term,” he said.
“These figures help to underscore the extent to which tourism has outperformed other key industries in job creation. And when compared to other countries’ tourism receipts, it becomes clear that tourism should be an easy win for South Africa, especially given our rich natural and cultural heritage.”
Phakisi said that New Zealand was able to attract $10 billion in tourist receipts in 2017, while Singapore, a country that is 0.006% the size of South Africa in terms of land area, was able to bring in $20 billion – more than twice that of South Africa.
“This highlights that to unlock the potential of tourism to stimulate our economy, all we have to do is take our thumb off the administrative pipeline that chokes the industry,” he said.
“And perhaps of even greater importance is that the cost of this tourism sector stimulus is zero or even negative – meaning that it will free up resources as we reduce administrative and regulatory requirements.”
“Ultimately Ramaphosa’s stimulus plan and particularly visa reforms should be welcomed as the quick fix needed to ignite economic growth and turn the tide on unemployment.”