The festive season is almost upon us and individuals are getting ready to travel. The Department of Home Affairs alongside the Southern African Tourism Services Association will be introducing an e-visa system for travellers. Director-General, Thulani Mavuso explained that the government is introducing the new online system to boost tourism by making it easier for foreign visitors to obtain a visa to travel to South Africa. The platform is also intended is also expected to allow South African companies to more easily acquire foreign employees with specialized skills. This change comes in response to the government’s plans of doubling inbound tourism numbers and reaching 21 million, by the year 2030.
Applicants for the e-visa will simply need to meet the South Africa visa requirements which include having a valid passport. Eligible travellers will be able to complete the online application form in just a few minutes with personal and passport information, and answer a few security-related questions, to receive an approved e-visa via email.
The Department of Home Affairs officially announced that it would be launching its e-visa pilot scheme in November 2019. Their goal was to get rid of as much of the ‘red tape’ as possible that may be preventing foreign travellers from making an effort to visit our country. The upcoming introduction of e-visas is just one step towards encouraging a greater number of international visitors. The department has worked hard to ensure that turnaround times for various visas are much faster than they have been in the past. According to Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi “The Department of Home Affairs has lowered turnaround times for critical work skills visas, which are now issued within four weeks in 88.5% of applications. Business and general work visas are issued within eight weeks in 98% of applications,” Along with that, Motsoaledi declared that citizens of seven countries will be able to travel to South Africa without applying for a visa. The 7 countries that will be able to travel visa-free to South Africa are Qatar, Ghana, New Zealand, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates.
According to David Frost, CEO of Southern African Tourism Services Association, “It’s too soon to tell how this has impacted tourism numbers since the new statistics have yet to be announced, but one only has to look at how tourism numbers decreased from New Zealand in 2017 when visas became mandatory for visitors to South Africa, to be able to ascertain the positive impact the reverse would have,” he commented.
Many locals have been left wondering whether the rules and regulations have been relaxed too much. Motsoaledi insisted that the Department of Home Affairs has not forgotten about safety despite the numerous alterations to local travel policies. “The Department of Home Affairs is constantly reviewing its operations to ensure that we relax entry requirements without compromising our responsibility towards the safety and security of our citizens,” he said.
To complement the introduction of the e-visa system, South Africa is also finalizing the development of a new Biometric Movement Control System, which is to be piloted at a number of South African airports in 2019. The first step is the implementation of e-gates at Cape Town International airport, with the scheme to be expanded to other airports once the initial trial has concluded.
The next few months and years will determine just how much these new visa changes will alter the South African tourism landscape. Considering the drastic decline in recent times, one can only hope to see a vast improvement going forward.