Travel companies 'harming SA' with visa row - Gigaba

02 August 2015 - 02:00 By MARVIN MEINTJIES

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba says travel and tourism agencies have done more harm to themselves and the country by not working with his department. Speaking to the Sunday Times in London, where he was opening a new visa centre operated by VFS, Gigaba said the travel and tourism industry had spurned several opportunities to make inputs on how to ease the burden imposed on travellers by the new immigration regulations and appeared to be stuck in a "zero-sum game" mindset.The industry, he said, was not open to the idea that tourism could be promoted without sacrificing child protection.story_article_left1The new visa regime, which critics have panned as onerous, requires prospective visitors to have their biometric data captured at a visa centre and parents travelling with minors to be in possession of a certified unabridged birth certificate as well as a letter of consent in cases where a child is travelling with one parent or a relative.Many, including Gigaba's cabinet colleague Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom, have said the regulations have harmed the hospitality sector and will discourage tourists.But Gigaba said: "We at home affairs have not harmed tourism. Those opposing the regulations, who have dedicated all of their energies to fighting the regulations instead of promoting travel to the country, are the ones that have caused great harm and [done a] disservice to both themselves and the country as a whole."The argument on "how many children have been victims of trafficking versus how many tourists can we get" was unfortunate, brutal and uncaring, Gigaba said."At the heart of this argument is [the idea that] child protection is not as important as chasing tourism figures and the profits thereof."How else can you protect a child [from being trafficked] without knowing their identity, who their parents are?"Instead of trying to work with his department to implement measures to ensure tourists were aware and able to comply with the new regulations, he said, the sector had embarked on a "crusade" to discredit his department in the press.Gigaba said: "I met both my colleague, the minister of tourism, as well as the tourism industry in South Africa last year. I asked [them to] provide me with suggestions on how we could mitigate the implementation of these regulations, [as well as] a list of countries and regions of origin of most of your tourists. To date, none of them have provided me with that."story_article_right2The legislative obligations to protect children from being trafficked could be met while tourists could be attracted, he said.The minister is pushing ahead with measures to lessen the impact of the new immigration regulations.The first of these, ironically, illustrates the divide and lack of communication between the tourism sector and Gigaba's department."From September, we will pilot a biometric capturing [programme] at our international airports," said Gigaba."Secondly, we're going to look at travellers that have valid visas of countries that apply rigorous immigration checks."So if somebody has a valid visa from the UK, the US or Canada, for example, we would presume that those people have been rigorously checked by those countries, so we would issue them visas on arrival at our international airports."A third plan is to accredit certain travel companies as "trusted" and delegate to them the responsibility to vet their clients and ensure they comply with the regulations, and "we will then capture their biometrics at the airport".sub_head_start Department gets it wrong, wronger, wrongest sub_head_endThe Department of Home Affairs was slapped with an order to pay legal costs on Wednesday - because of its hopeless attempts to produce an unabridged birth certificate for a couple's 14-year-old daughter.According to papers in the High Court in Pretoria, the department took four tries and almost a year to get the document right - only producing the correct version after it was dragged to court on Tuesday.The saga began on August 6 last year, when Paula McStay applied for the certificate so that her daughter could start school in Ireland on August 26 2015. First, the department took seven months to issue the certificate. When it finally arrived, McStay's name and surname were wrong - and, she noticed later, her ID number was missing.story_article_left3The second version - produced on May 29 this year - contained all the original mistakes, and the name of the Irish city of Dublin was now spelt "Dubhn".Home affairs's third try - which arrived on June 12 - saw every error that had been pointed out to the department copied on the new certificate.Finally, at around 10am on Wednesday this week, a day after launching the court application, McStay received her daughter's valid, unabridged birth certificate.According to court papers, McStay, who lives in Pretoria, went to home affairs offices every week after making her application a year ago.New regulations that came into effect on June 1 this year make it mandatory for all children under the age of 18 to have an unabridged birth certificate when leaving or arriving in the country.A relieved McStay said: "It has taken a great toll on us, especially on my health."- Additional reporting Pericles Anetos

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