Economic Opportunities Minister Alan Winde briefs Western Cape Provincial Parliament on national visa laws

By Alan Winde, Minister of Economic Affairs:

Today, Economic Opportunities Minister, Alan Winde, briefed the Western Cape Provincial Parliament on the impact of the visa regulations. The Standing Committee on Economic Opportunities, Tourism and Agriculture had raised concerns around the effect of the laws on the Western Cape’s key sectors and requested a status report from Minister Winde.

Project Khulisa, the Western Cape’s growth strategy, has identified national government’s restrictive visa regulations as one of the key challenges to growing the province’s R17 billion tourism sector. Project Khulisa has shown that under a high-growth scenario, the economic contribution of the tourism sector has the potential to increase to up to R28 billion by 2019. Under this same scenario, it could add up to 100 000 formal jobs. Currently, 204 000 residents are employed in the sector.

During the briefing, Minister Winde explained that the visa laws threatened the growth of the South African tourism sector, putting over 1 million jobs on the line.

Key points in Minister Winde;s report include:

The Western Cape Government’s Red Tape Reduction Unit has been actively involved in assisting residents, businesses and international travellers to overcome blockages related to the regulations.

Since August 2014, the Red Tape Reduction Unit (RTRU) has fielded queries relating to various problems experienced by businesses and individuals regarding the new immigration regulations.  The most common problems experienced relate to the following:

  • Lack of feedback on long-outstanding applications for temporary and permanent residency;
  • The requirement to travel to a SA foreign mission for biometrics (fingerprint scanning) when making an application for a visa. This can result in visitors having to travel over long distances, e.g. to one of only 2 VFS centres in China, or often to another neighbouring or nearby country, e.g. from Lithuania to Sweden;
  • Delays in processing visa applications (mostly in respect of foreign businessespeople, but also i.r.o. spouses and children);
  • Refusal by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to issue visas to prospective students of SA language schools, requiring such schools to be registered as higher education institution with the Department of Higher Education, despite that department advising that that is not a requirement;
  • Refusal of scarce skills visa applications, despite well-motivated and demonstrated lack of the skills concerned, as supported / certified by the DTI and the Department of Labour; and
  • The unabridged birth certificate requirement being misinterpreted by DHA or the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO)  consular staff members, and hence refusing to issue visas to children in circumstances where their passports should have been accepted as an “equivalent document”.

Capacity in the Department of Home Affairs is a problem. The key issue is related to the DHA’s centralisation initiative and the contracting of Visa Facilitation Services (VFS) as the DHA’s receiving agent for visas.

This has resulted in provincial officers and the DHA’s call centre in Pretoria no longer having access to the visa query system.

These staff are now unable to speedily provide updates on pending applications.

Offices like the Red Tape Reduction Unit have to rely on personal contacts or escalation to top management to elicit responses.

The Red Tape Reduction Unit has devised a set of proposals which, if implemented, would lessen the negative impact of these rules.

These proposals include:

  • Creating the required capacity and improving efficiency at DHA offices to ensure that processes are finalised and documents issued timeously;
  • Ensuring that DHA officials understand the legislation and regulations to minimise the possibility of misinterpretation (such as the language school case and declaring tourists undesirable);
  • Consider offering visas on arrival, as countries such as Bolivia, Ethiopia and Rwanda are doing;
  • Consider provision for an electronic visa application system, where tourist can apply for visas online instead of having to apply at a South African embassy in person;
  • Consider collecting biometric data on arrival at airports, instead of travellers having to travel sometimes to a neighbouring country for fingerprints to be taken;
  • Consider not requiring biometric visas from countries where we seek to grow tourism, as Australia does; and
  • A balance should be found between preventing child trafficking, and growing the economy through tourism and investment, and thereby creating income and jobs.
  • A full RIA to be conducted on the regulations, and the proposed changes.

 

Kindly find attached Minister’s Winde full report tabled to the Standing Committee. A summary of some of the cases is below:

Minister Winde Standing Committee briefing on visa laws

Red Tape Reduction Unit visa cases July 2015