New SA Visa Rules – Is Home Affairs Using SA Taxpayers’ Money Effectively?

The second impact study commissioned by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) to assess how South Africa’s new immigration regulations are affecting the tourism industry shows that the department of home affairs could have resorted to a far simpler and more cost-effective solution when it comes to the collection of biometric data.

TBCSA says the study it commissioned from Grant Thornton specifically looked at two negative areas of concern.

Changes to SA’s immigration and visa policy specify that tourists coming from countries whose citizens are required to have a visa, need to appear in person during the visa application process and for all minors travelling to and from South Africa to be in possession of an unabridged birth certificate in addition to their passport, where applicable.

Cheaper to secure SA’s borders

While the unabridged birth certificate requirement has been a particularly contentious issue, the study also highlighted the cost factor associated with the collection of biometric data. The TBCSA told Traveller24 the impact study found that it would have been more cost effective to implement the collection of biometric data on arrival at South African borders than to implement the same system in SA’s various consulates and processing centres across the globe.

Research shows that countries with visa on arrival policies as well as e-visas have significantly grown their inbound tourism numbers.

TBCSA Corporate Communications Manager Kagiso Mosue told Traveller24: “By our estimates, around 115 biometric readers would be required to meet the needs of South Africa’s 69 border posts, [South Africa’s] many smaller border crossings would only need one reader whilst larger posts like OR Tambo would need a significant number.”

The impact assessment study shows that the cost to install biometric readers at South African consulates would be around R17.5 million compared to the R7 million to install the same system at all of South Africa’s border posts. That’s an estimated difference of R10 million.

Mosue also highlighted that the estimate from the impact study did not take the following into consideration:

– Additional costs incurred in transporting and setting up the system in different countries and various border posts in South Africa

– The costs associated with training officials in South Africa versus training those outside of South Africa; and

– The possible outsourcing of the visa processing system (although this may reduce the initial capital costs, there will be ongoing operating costs which will be much higher than in-house operations).

SA only country requiring unabridged birth certificate

Regarding the requirement for minors needing to have an unabridged birth certificate, the impact report stated that no other country required children to travel with an unabridged birth certificate in addition to their passport when travelling with both parents.

The unabridged birth certificate requirement is at the centre of a call for the new rules to be reviewed as it has also been pegged as a key contributor to a drop in tourism numbers. The study also shows in 2015, the number of lost foreign tourists due to changes in the immigration regulations is likely to increase to 100 000 with a direct tourism spend of R1.4bn.

The estimated net loss to the South African GDP is expected to be around R4.1bn, with a further loss of 9 300 jobs.

The fact that there is no international standard for birth certificates only serves to compound the issue around the requirement.

The report states that as each country had the right to develop their own document that proved the birth or existence of a person, this would specifically impact a visitor’s decision to visit South Africa, since “obtaining a certified copy of this document is frequently costly and timely”.

Visitors from African and eastern countries are expected to experience the most difficulty in obtaining birth certificates timeously and without hassle.

Demand from China dropping

Official tourism statistics indicate that the number of visitors from India and China in particular have decreased significantly in 2014 – with the main service provider Air China stating that it had put its direct route on hold, citing concerns about the new visa requirements.

The direct flight to OR Tambo was meant to come into effect at the end of June but has since been put on hold until October 29.

An estimated 15% of inbound tourists in South Africa, about 1.4 million people being impacted by the requirement for children to travel with a birth certificate, assuming a ratio of one adult to one child.

According to the report, demand from China dropped by almost a quarter in 2014 as less than 83 000 Chinese tourists visited South Africa in 2014 when compared to 109 000 visitors in 2013.

“China has become the largest outbound tourism market in the world with 109 million outbound tourists in 2014. Furthermore, Chinese tourists are big spenders and collectively represent the world’s top tourist spending nation,” the report stated.

A review of the regulations needs to be on the cards

News24 reports that the TBCSA plans to continue to monitor developments, provide the required information to assist businesses to better handle various cases, whilst also lobbying for the review of the regulations.

“Our first impact assessment report already gave us a glimpse of what to expect and sadly, we have not managed to successfully militate against some of the risks which were highlighted by the first report,” TBCSA CEO, Mmatšatši Ramawela.

Ramawela reiterated that the industry was not against government’s plans to address the issue of child trafficking or to enhance national security but rather that these objectives could be achieved without compromising the country’s tourism and overall economic growth potential.

“What we are saying is, allow us an opportunity to engage and present alternative solutions which will not have such a drastic impact on our industry.

“Although still unconfirmed, suggestions that a review of the regulations may be on the cards gives us hope. Despite the set-backs we have experienced thus far, we remain optimistic that we can find a win-win solution on this matter,” said Ramawela.