It cannot handle the backlog for short-term visas, so those unable to extend their visas have been told to leave the country by the end of the month. From Moneyweb.
A Department of Home Affairs (DHA) directive demanding that short-term visitors who have not received visa renewals by 23 February must immediately leave the country has been slammed for laying waste to SA’s encouraging tourism recovery.
Hundreds of thousands of short-term visitors – otherwise known as ‘swallows’ – migrate to SA during the summer months and receive 90-day visas at the point of entry. They then apply for a 90-day visa extension, allowing them to stay 180 days before migrating back for the northern hemisphere summer.
The DHA snuck in its new directive during the festive season, perhaps hoping no one would notice.
The directive overrules the previous agreement allowing visitors an additional 90-day extension while awaiting visa renewals.
The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) says this means those who arrived in October and November last year will be forced – if they don’t receive visa renewals by 23 February – to leave by 29 February.
The potential loss to tourism and inward investment could run into billions of rands, as these swallows are high spenders, and many have properties and businesses in SA.
It’s a case of government squatting in the path of prosperity.
In an open letter to international visitors, Western Cape Minister for Finance and Economic Development and Tourism Mireille Wenger says the reputational damage and economic costs for SA “have now reached intolerable levels, costing jobs and compromising national and provincial economic growth”.
It is senseless to impose abrupt restrictions on the people who travel far and choose South Africa over an extensive range of options, and who play an important role in economic growth and job creation, adds Wenger.
She says she has engaged directly with Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi “to urge the DHA to reassess the terms outlined in this circular”.
“This is because they [the terms] appear irregular, procedurally unfair, and constitutionally questionable.”
She adds: “Such an approach not only undermines the principles of our democratic governance but also exposes the department to even more potential litigation over visa bungles.”
SA should follow the path taken by other countries, says independent tourism consultant Gillian Saunders.
“Why can’t the DHA simply issue a new directive allowing an automatic 90-day extension of the visas based on similar extensions given in prior years – surely they have this on record?
“Why do they even have to bother with visa extension applications?” she asks.
“We have always advocated for a much simpler and fairer system, where such short-term visitors from our 90 day visa-free countries are given, based on a simple application, an 180-day visa on arrival instead of 90 days.
“Most of the swallows are people who come every year and we know they are important to the economy, especially in the Western Cape,” says Saunders.
“The DHA has data which shows they are regular visitors and are not coming here illegally. It would be much better if we followed the example of many overseas countries and offer visitors 180-day visas on entry,” she adds.
“That way we solve the problem at a stroke.”
Satsa calls it a “thoughtless directive” by DHA.
“This irrational decree shows complete disregard for the tourism industry and will be ruinous at a time when the country desperately needs visitors’ foreign capital,” according to Oupa Pilane, Satsa chair.
“South Africa grants short-term visas on arrival to tourists from many countries.
“But due to astounding levels of ineptitude and incompetence, Home Affairs regularly fails to process the simple visa extensions in a reasonable time.”
He adds that these swallows who visit for up to 180 days are a golden goose for the SA economy and its tourism sector, which is the third-highest GDP earner for the country and enjoys a deep and vast supply chain creating job opportunities.
“These Sun Chasers are a lucrative market segment for the country not only because of their lengthy stay, but also because of their contribution to the government’s coffers through their retail spend and associated VAT [value-added tax],” says Satsa.
DHA has options
Wenger says she has formally extended the support of the Western Cape government to expedite visa processing, allowing DHA officials to focus their minds on making a decision, while helping to address and process the existing backlog.
“This is a genuine offer of support to bolster the department’s capacity to promptly apply minds to duly submitted and paid applications for visa renewals.”
The Western Cape’s Red Tape Reduction Unit and business and tourism promotion agency Wesgro have been trying to deal with the challenges in the visa system on behalf of desperate businesses and individuals.
“Cases of long delays impacting investment projects in the Western Cape have been reported, with little to no feedback on visa rejections or delays,” says Wenger.
“This not only hampers implementation plans but also discourages investment, impedes job creation, and tarnishes the reputation of our province and country as a welcoming business environment.
“Both business and leisure tourism are adversely affected by these inefficiencies, particularly for travellers from countries that are not visa exempt.
“South Africa’s economic growth and job creation depend on a functional and efficient visa system,” she adds.
“As public servants, it is our responsibility to do all we can to build a future where our immigration policies and practices support and enable the imperative to grow a thriving national economy.
“But right now, our opportunities to do so are at risk of fluttering away.”