Leon warns on SA-Britain visa rule

Any move by Britain to impose visa requirements on South Africans wishing to visit that country will have a serious effect on business and travel links between the two countries, the Democratic Alliance warned on Wednesday.

According to reports, British legislators were examining evidence that might, in the near future, lead to such a visa requirement, DA foreign affairs spokesperson Tony Leon said in a statement.

”Such a move will have a serious effect on business and travel links between our countries, and create barriers to entry which are without precedent in terms of the travel regime which has stood since the time of Union in 1910.

”In light of the potential negative implications of this situation, I have written to Britain’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Paul Boateng, to emphasise the need for caution from the British authorities before they consider enforcing such a regime,” Leon said.

It was equally clear that South Africa’s Ministers of Home Affairs and Intelligence had to resolve problems in their departments ”to remove any perception that our country is a safe haven for international terrorists and criminals”.

Leon said British authorities have been urged to overhaul immigration rules that allowed South African passport holders to enter Britain without a visa and stay for six months.

”British security services, including the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), intelligence services and anti-terrorist police have argued that this loophole is being exploited by terrorists with links to al-Qaeda and also by illegal immigrants.

”British intelligence services have already shut down an al-Qaeda cell, members of which had been allegedly travelling to terrorist camps in Pakistan via South Africa.”

South Africa had also been linked by British authorities to people-smuggling, where people were smuggled from India to South Africa, where they obtained forged South African passports before being shipped to London.

”This case resulted in the convictions of at least 40 people and led the head of Soca to impress upon MPs on the home affairs select committee that this case should lead to the reintroduction of a visa regime with South Africa.”

The Home Office had confirmed it was looking at implementing such a request.

”The enforcement of a visa regime is a drastic step as it will severely inconvenience the 450 000 South Africans who travel to Britain every year, including 180 000 tourists.

”Even more importantly, it will affect the growth of business links, compromising Britain’s ability to retain its position as one of South Africa’s leading trading partners,” Leon said. – Sapa

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