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While the South African Travel Trade has welcomed the announcement of the addition of seven visa-free countries, the Department of Home Affairs confirmed to Inside Travel that it cannot yet confirm the lead time for the implementation of visa-free travel for the countries consisting of Qatar, United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Ghana and Sao Tome and Principe.
According to the department, now that the announcement has been made, further processing of the implementation thereof is needed before it will take effect. The department added that any such announcement will be made in due course.
During his speech at the Home Affairs Budget Vote, Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi said that while the Home Affairs Department’s core mandate is issuing identification, it also contributes significantly to economic growth.
“We do this by making life easier for our sister Departments such as Tourism to boast their tourism figures. Tourism will soar if we relax visa requirements for entry into South Africa. We know that Tourism is very important for job creation,” said the minister.
He added that the department will immediately enter into discussions with the newly added countries to discuss how a visa-free regime will work.
China, India and Nigeria
During his speech, the minister also addressed the issue of South Africa’s three largest target source markets – China, India and Nigeria.
“We still have some homework to do for three countries whose combined populations make up close to 30% of the world’s population (China, India and Nigeria).”
“While we are busy tackling the matter of the three countries. For now, we shall this financial year, increase 2½ times the number of people who work for Home Affairs to process visas in both China and India. We shall increase 2 times the number of people who process visas to our country in Nigeria,” said the minister.
Out of the 193 countries who are member states of the United Nations, the Department has granted visa–free status to 75 countries. Of these 16 are in our continent and are SADC members and 59 are from all over the world.
More radical changes announced
Motsoaledi also announced that plans for a new online visa application system are well underway.
“The President has announced in the SONA in both February and June that we will accelerate the implementation of e-visa system. E-visa will make it easier for tourists to visit, and for companies to acquire employees with critical skills,” Motsoaledi told the National Assembly.
“It will be an online application with a risk-based adjudication and issuance of your visa electronically as opposed to a hard copy. On receiving the electronic message by email, you just continue straight to your airport and head on to South Africa.”
Presenting the Home Affairs budget vote on Wednesday (10 July), deputy minister Njabulo Bheka Nzuza added that the changes would also include improvements to the department’s security systems.
Chief among these is an upgrade to the Advanced Passenger Processing System.
This system allows us to see and target undesirable visitors before they even board a flight from their destination and use the capacity to stop undesirable visitors for purposes of national security, Nzuza said.
“We are now going further by establishing the National Targeting Centre that will do risk assessments on visitors after they have boarded flights as a secondary control system.
“This is critical to ensure that undesirable and risky visitors are kept at bay, to create a secure environment for the country.”
Nzuza said that in addition to profiling trusted travellers, the National Targeting Centre will also tie into the new e-gates system.
“These (trusted) travellers will be registered in our e-gates systems which will open for them automatically as they present themselves at our airports of entry,” he said.
He added that the new e-gates are ‘world-class systems’ that are linked with international policing and security.
“We are moving forward with our e-gates system in partnership with ACSA. This system will work by registering individuals as trusted travelers. Thus, South Africans who are bona fide citizens who are not flagged on the stop risk engines will now be part of our trusted travellers which will drastically ease traffic for citizens giving us more capacity to speedily handle visitors.”
“As a result of this technology, our airports will now rank higher within the international community making it a desirable destination for doing business,” he said.