More confusion rather than a solution‚ say tourism organisations on Gigaba’s travel docs announcement

25 September 2018 - 18:06 By Ernest Mabuza
The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association CEO David Frost says the requirement to produce unabridged birth certificates must be eliminated immediately across the board to ensure South Africa’s competitiveness as a tourism destination
The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association CEO David Frost says the requirement to produce unabridged birth certificates must be eliminated immediately across the board to ensure South Africa’s competitiveness as a tourism destination
Image: Peter Mogaki. Sowetan.

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba’s announcement on Tuesday that minor children travelling to South Africa would only need to show full documentation “by exception” serves only to confuse travellers‚ the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) said.

Gigaba said on Tuesday that instead of requiring all foreign minors to carry documentation proving parental consent for travel‚ the department would instead strongly recommend that travellers carried this documentation.

“Our immigration officials will only insist on documentation by exception – in high-risk situations – rather than for all travellers‚ in line with practice by several other countries‚” he said.

But Satsa was not convinced that the announcement made the situation better.

“Home Affairs issued an obfuscated message that serves only to confuse travellers‚ much in the way it did when the regulation was first introduced three years ago‚” Satsa CEO David Frost said.

He said issuing an international travel advisory only in October‚ after Gigaba’s vague statements that an unabridged birth certificate may be requested by immigration officials‚ simply reintroduced the confusion the organisation fought many years to dispel.

Frost further lamented that this undermined comments by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week that he wanted to make it easier for foreign travellers to visit South Africa.

“Our position from the start has been that this draconian‚ heavy-handed and nonsensical policy to combat child trafficking has no place in the modern economy. Rather‚ it should be dealt with through proper policing. Semantic changes to the regulation are not the solution‚” Frost said.

The organisation said it believed the requirement to produce unabridged birth certificates must be eliminated immediately across the board to ensure South Africa’s competitiveness as a tourism destination and remove any confusion around the requirements for foreign minors travelling to South Africa.

However‚ the organisation welcomed moves by the Ministry of Home Affairs to introduce visa waivers for certain source markets.

“We would have liked to have seen an immediate visa waiver for visitors from the Middle East‚ and New Zealand‚ a source market which has seen a decline of 30% in arrivals since visas were introduced.”

It said what South Africa’s tourism sector needed‚ while this process remained open-ended‚ was immediate action.

“Our key markets of India and China remain constrained because of the inability of Home Affairs to issue visas timeously. We need urgent implementation of measures to improve visa requirements for these markets so that President Ramaphosa’s vision of tourism contributing to the growth of South Africa’s economy can become a reality now‚ not later.”

Meanwhile‚ the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (Asata) said it was disappointed and frustrated that South African minors would still be required to present unabridged birth certificates when travelling.

CEO Otto de Vries said that if government wanted to stimulate the country’s economy‚ the requirements for unabridged birth certificates needed to be scrapped for all travellers‚ including South Africans.

“The controversial requirement for travelling families has stifled outbound tourism‚ as it is making it difficult for local families to travel internationally. Why would you continue to apply a policy that will hamper and frustrate them?” De Vries questioned.

He urged government to apply the new policy consistently and across the board.

“Only applying the policy for international travellers would have no relevancy and creates inconsistency. The stringent requirements were implemented to combat child trafficking. If the government only removes the requirement for international travellers‚ are they suggesting that only South African passport holders are guilty of child trafficking?” De Vries asked.

He said not extending the amendments to the rules across the board would also become a logistical nightmare‚ as foreign airlines would need to continue to monitor each traveller to identify South Africans and only apply the stringent regulations to them.

“South Africans living abroad are equally frustrated by this onerous regulation‚ which requires them to acquire [unabridged birth certificates] or go through the passport application process for their children‚” he said.

Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba announced amendments to the visa regulations on September 25 2018. These amendments are in line with recommendations by the inter-ministerial committee on immigration regulations.

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