Barriers: Easing tourist access to South Africa
JOHANNESBURG – Among the critical tasks of the sixth administration headed by President Cyril Ramaphosa is the removal of regulatory barriers to growth and small business development.
There is an implicit recognition of the adverse impact of over bureaucratisation and red tape in the performance of the economy.
This, among other binding constraints, undermines our competitiveness. That is what the president was referring to when in the State of the Nation Address he said: “Public policy must be evidence-based and effectively co-ordinated… we are urgently working on a set of priority reforms to improve the ease of doing business by consolidating and streamlining regulatory processes, automating permit and other applications and reducing the cost of compliance.”
It is in this context that decisive reforms are being undertaken to remove the regulatory barriers that impact on our ability to fully exploit our tourism potential, one of the fastest growing industries throughout the world.
Tourism has been recognised as a key driver of employment and economic growth in South Africa. It has become one of our fastest growing export sectors – eighth fastest among exports. For 2012 to 2016 inbound visitor expenditure accounted for 44.6 percent of total internal tourism expenditure (and domestic visitor expenditure 55.4 percent).
It is, however, also an ultra-competitive industry, and tourists are spoilt for choice in choosing their next destination. Tourists typically choose a destination on price, safety and ease of access.
Our tourism industry is one of the most vibrant in the world, and millions of people enjoy safe and carefree holidays in our country every year.
Tourism contributes to the local economy and employment. There were 722 013 persons directly engaged in producing goods and services purchased by visitors in 2017, or 4.5 percent, of the labour force in 2017 (latest reference year is 2017 as was released in November 2018).
South Africa is looking to double its international tourist arrivals from 10.5 million to 21 million by 2030.
Getting more tourists into our country for both leisure and business travel requires an integrated approach, and government has recognised that ensuring greater ease of access is key to attracting more visitors from the continent and abroad.
Many visitors who now travel to South Africa enjoy a streamlined visa and ports of entry experience. South Africa does not require visas from 82 countries and these includes 20 EU countries and 18 other countries in Africa.
At some point the government had introduced a number of regulations that were cited as impacting negatively on easy access for foreign visitors into South Africa. For example, foreign visitors who were travelling with minors required an unabridged birth certificate. These rules have since been simplified and since December 2018, foreign nationals travelling with minors are no longer required to carry unabridged birth certificates.
Instead, our immigration officials are applying risk based verification methods for minors travelling with someone else other than a parent/s. However, we acknowledge that the implementation of the revised system has not been consistently applied at ports of entry. The government is addressing these challenges to ensure improved ease of access.
And we must add: the safety of children must never be compromised in the cold rush to increase tourism numbers.
Further, it is reported that the Immigration Advisory Board will be meeting in the coming weeks to consider how to simplify clauses in the travel regulations affecting foreign minor children in order to remove ambiguity and uncertainty for travellers.
The government has also moved to implement visa waivers for selected strategic countries.
From December 2017 travellers from Angola and the Russian Federation were able to travel to South Africa without having to apply for a visa.
Negotiations are also in place to conclude visa waiver agreements for ordinary passport holders from several other countries. From August 15, 2019, visa waivers were implemented for Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and New Zealand.
While modalities are being activated to include waivers for Cuba, Ghana, and Sao Tome and Principe, a number of other visa waivers for several African and European countries are also being considered.
Given the special relationship with our BRICS counterparts, we have moved to simplify visa requirements for countries such as China and India. This includes issuing 5-year multiple entry visas, and allowing biometrics to be captured on arrival in South Africa; thus allowing visa applications via courier.
Home Affairs further reports agreement on simplification of visa requirements have been concluded with India and will be signed in the coming months, while a 10-year long-term multiple entry visa for business people from BRICS countries – China and India – has been implemented.
Home Affairs has also increased the number of staff to support visa processing in India and China that will help to fast track applications. Personnel increases are due in Nigeria as well to increase the speed of travel document applications.
In order to further ease the movement of travellers, for purposes of tourism, business meetings and academic exchange, the state is working on implementing the multiple entry visa system for frequent travellers to the country.
In that connection Home Affairs now issues a three-year multiple entry visas for frequent travellers to South Africa, and a 10-year long-term multiple entry visa for business people and academics from Africa.
In the past there have also been concerns raised over the issue of skilled migrants and attracting critical skills to our shores.
The Department of Home Affairs is working on a critical skills list to be implemented by the end of March 2020, which will assist in attracting and retaining critically skilled labour to enhance economic development and advance South Africa’s new path of growth and employment.
We are also working on developing a more efficient and integrated system between the Departments of Home Affairs, Employment and Labour and Trade, Industry and Competition to process applications of skilled migrants.
Currently foreign students graduating in South Africa with critical skills are offered an opportunity to apply for permanent residence.
Those who do not opt for permanent residence are issued with critical skills visas.
Throughout the system we are working to reduce bureaucratic red tape to make it easier for tourists to travel. The introduction of an e-visa system is at an advanced stage and will create a seamless travel experience for visitors.
Similarly, the implementation of e-Gates is being considered to improve facilitation of movement of frequent travellers going through our international airports.
This will dovetail with a Biometric Movement Control System which will ensure greater efficiency in the clearing of travellers arriving at our international airports.
We continue to build a very strong partnership with the tourism industry with both Tourism and Home Affairs Departments having frequent engagements with industry players. This builds a firm foundation for forging a compact driven by an ambitious vision for the sector.
In the end these and other interventions will ensure that more people can travel to South Africa, to enjoy what our best hospitality and unique heritage offer.
By growing our tourism industry, we can create jobs, build wealth and give meaningful opportunities to our young people in particular.
As for crime, that too is being attended to. People must visit our country and leave without any threat to their personal safety. The scoundrels who target tourists will be banished to long-term imprisonment.
Busani Ngcaweni is the DDG: Policy and Research Services in the Presidency.