Tourism, modelling and call centre industries hit by visa rules

Beverley Schäfer, MPP

DA spokeswoman for Economic Development, Tourism & Agriculture for the Western Cape

On September 25 Parliament’s standing committee on economic development and tourism heard oral submissions from representatives across all sectors of the Western Cape economy including emotional stories of children and spouses being torn apart due to the new visa regulations hastily adopted on May 26.

It is clear that significant job losses will occur across all sectors, with the possibility that some sectors would actually come to a standstill.

What is absolutely evident to the committee is that no public engagement was done with any of the local or national associations as to the impact these regulations would have. The window for public comment was short and it seems it was merely a PR exercise as many reported that comments made were simply not taken into account.

In 2007, a joint study was commissioned by the Presidency and the National Treasury to look at introducing Regulatory Impact Assessments (RIA) into South Africa, then formally adopted as a set of guidelines for the Presidency in 2012. RIAs are used worldwide to assess the impact of legislation on the economy, determine the cost benefit and potential risks that may arise, and more importantly, to ensure that all stakeholders are given the opportunity to give input.

I believe these new visa regulations have failed to fulfil their constitutional mandate of public/stakeholder engagement and that no RIA was ever done.

No impact or cost benefit was assessed, and most sectors were never consulted or informed.

The constitution states clearly that the role of legislatures is extended to public administration in that “people’s needs must be responded to, and the public must be encouraged to participate in policymaking”. These public hearings provided an opportunity that many sectors felt were not afforded to them in the draft phase of implementation of the regulations.

The airlines have publicly stated that a loss of R5 billion to R7bn is imminent with a predicted loss of 270 000 fewer tourists coming into South Africa, resulting in some 21 000 job losses in the industry.

The English Foreign Language tourism sector currently attracting around 20 000 students and contributing more than R800 million to the economy will be negatively affected.

The Cape Town Convention Centre which contributes around 7 000 direct and indirect jobs and R8bn into the local economy, will be impacted.

The call centre sector employing 6 000 18 to 25-year-olds will see their numbers possibly decline as middle managers, which South Africa sorely lacks, struggle to get into the country to upskill and train people into these positions.

The film industry contributes to an approximate R4bn market, and will see some 27 000 freelancers struggling to spend their foreign currency here.

The new regulations stipulate that the S11.2 permit, authorising one to work as a freelancer, now has to be processed at a South African mission, and has to be applied for in person.

This process also has to be followed by the lucrative modelling industry, where models travel in and out of the country, spending foreign currency and creating jobs for locals in the industry. Many of the foreign models travelling in do not need visas and are not accustomed to applying in person or having to fly to a diplomatic mission in another city for this permit.

The potential of the entire freelance industry is currently at stake. More concerning was the absolute lack of knowledge at diplomatic missions about the process for application and on many occasions, simply turning the applicant away seemed to be a common occurrence.

The impact of the study of the effect of visas on families living here in the Western Cape has been the most disturbing for the committee to hear.

A reported 30 foreign students were affected at the start of their new school year in August and could not return to school. Four weeks into the school year, 15 students were still stuck abroad waiting for their study visas. Seven foreign learners are still abroad waiting for their visas after families started their visa processes back in February 2014 and their education is being severely affected.

In a recent article, Minister Malusi Gigaba stated that, “the amendments were in the best interests of South Africa’s security when it came to the effective and efficient management of migration, while “ensuring economic development and prosperity”. While we recognise human trafficking as a hideous crime that must be acted upon, why is Minister Gigaba using visa regulations, rather than the 2013 Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill which specifically tackles human trafficking?

After all, the act is there to ensure that the enforcement is put into operation. However when asked about the effect of enforcement, the Western Cape Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) stated that no arrests had been made since its promulgation.

So why did we issue summons to Minister Gigaba to appear before the standing committee? The reasons outlined above should illustrate quite clearly that the impact of people’s livelihoods and families being forced apart, is serious enough for us to exercise our right to do so.

Instead of appearing, Minister Gigaba sent us the President’s Senior Advocate and his entourage of officials to appear and deliberate on the constitutionality of the summons.

The standing committee has now extended another invitation to the minister to address the committee on these complaints and our concerns around the risk of job losses in the Western Cape.