Cape Town - The home affairs department will not relax onerous new immigration rules but will fast-track visa centres and biometric-data capturing systems to reduce upheaval, Minister Malusi Gigaba said on Wednesday.
Gigaba said spending R5 million on installing biometric systems at all South Africa's international points of entry would eventually do away with the need for transit visas.
“That will mean that instead of us issuing people with transit visas, when those biometric systems are operating properly, we will then obtain biometric details and be able to check those against their travelling schedule.”
Gigaba was speaking after a two-hour meeting with his tourism counterpart Derek Hanekom, who has publicly expressed concern that the new rules were damaging the country's lucrative tourism sector.
The new requirement for in-person biometric data collection when applying for a visa to South Africa, in particular, has met with concern from the tourism sector.
The ministers told a joint media briefing they had agreed to co-operate to increase the number of visa application centres abroad, particularly in India and China, who were rapidly growing sources of tourism revenue, but each had only two such centres.
The number of visitors from China has grown by 235 percent in the past five year, and those from India by almost 80 percent, according to Hanekom.
“In China, for some people it is not only a four-hour flight to apply for a visa but a four-hour return flight before you embark on your journey, because the visa is not issued on the spot,” he said.
“It is a highly competitive market and very easy for tourists to say 'no, we won't do South Africa'.”
Gigaba added: “We are quite aware that the offices we have at the moment are insufficient. We have the capability and the willingness to extend the visa facilitation to those areas of high volume demand.”
In India, government planned to open up to another ten centres, he said, and the department of tourism would indicate where those needed to be located.
Gigaba said he believed a major reason for complaints about the new regulations was confusion about the requirement for foreign minors travelling to South Africa to carry an unabridged birth certificate.
What was in fact required was “a document of that country written in the language of that country - it does not have to be translated - but is an equivalent of the South African unabridged birth certificate”.
Gigaba rejected suggestions that home affairs should first put in place all the necessary infrastructure before implementing the regulations to avoid teething problems.
He said measures to combat child trafficking and deal with South Africa's vast numbers of asylum seekers, as well as security threats, meant the measures were years overdue.
“We must not be caught napping in any eventuality. We need to know the identities of the people coming into South Africa and we cannot know unless they apply in person.”
The new immigration rules came into effect on May 26.