S. Africa’s Tough Visa Rules Come Into Effect

S. Africa’s Tough Visa Rules Come Into EffectS. Africa’s Tough Visa Rules Come Into Effect

South Africa’s tough new entry rules for minors have come into effect on Monday, to prevent child trafficking, which airlines and travel agents say could hurt the important tourism industry.

The government estimates 30,000 children are trafficked into South Africa annually, often for prostitution or labor. Opposition parties, human rights groups and tourism firms say the true figure is much lower.

The new rules from the department of home affairs require minors travelling with both parents to have an unabridged birth certificate with full details of both parents, as well as a passport and visa.

If the child is travelling with only one parent, immigration authorities require the written consent of the other parent, even when the parents are divorced.

Those travelling with a minor who is not their biological child need a legal letter from either the parents or guardians authorizing the journey.

“The main aim is that we prevent child trafficking,” said minister in presidency, Jeff Radebe.

Tourism has become South Africa’s fastest-growing sector. Arrivals have been boosted in part by a weaker rand currency that has made South Africa a relatively cheap destination.

The outbound travel, inbound tourism and airline industry associations – ASATA, SATSA and BARSA – held a media briefing on Friday to discuss the key issues around the new requirements, including how biometric visas will affect the industry.

 Hurting Tourism

David Frost, the chief executive of Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA), said the new rules would hurt the industry.

Airlines would bear the cost of repatriating travelers without the correct documents, he said. “What we are seeing here is akin to taking a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito.”

Otto de Vries, the head of the Association of Southern African Travel Agents, disputed the government’s figures on trafficking.

“If you are going to implement policy that is this unique in the world, you would have taken the time to find out exactly how serious the situation is,” he said.

Frost said the figure of 30,000 children being trafficked annually was produced by Roxanne Williams from Operation Mobilization and has been confirmed as a “misquote”.

Stats produced by SAPS on the actual number of children going missing in SA every year are not even 2% of this estimate. If the number of SA children being trafficked is so high, why has there not been an increase in the number of missing children reported to SAPS?

“Surely, their parents would have reported it? Most trafficking occurs within South Africa, i.e. it is internal and not across borders. Porous borders into and out of SA have been noted as a means for trafficking children across borders.”

Alan Winde, Western Cape minister of economic opportunities, believes the South African tourism sector is bracing itself for disaster.

He said a clause which has raised concern in the sector is the need for biometrics when applying for a visa, often resulting in a potential traveler having to travel to a visa processing center for fingerprinting.

In some instances, this entails a lengthy trip to the only such center in the country, or even a neighboring country.

Winde said the Western Cape government’s Red Tape Reduction Unit has been analyzing the regulations.

“Being solutions-focused, my Red Tape Reduction Unit has devised a set of proposals which, if implemented, would lessen the negative impact of these rules,” said Winde.

Part of the solution proposed is that home affairs needs to urgently create the capacity and efficiency needed to process applications swiftly.

Winde had received a report, for instance, that a tour group from India travelling with children had been incorrectly denied visas.

“The Indian Consulate has expressed concern because in that country, passports contain the details of both parents, hence passports should clearly be accepted as an equivalent document of an unabridged birth certificate,” said Winde.

He said home affairs should embark on a training program to make sure all staff understood the legislation.

“We have to ensure that home affairs staff understand the legislation to prevent unnecessary refusals. The regulations are already stringent; misinterpretation of the laws will only further frustrate visitors.”