/ 10 February 2008

UK likely to strip SA of its visa-free status, says report

The United Kingdom is ”likely” to strip South Africa of its ”visa-free” status this year because of rampant corruption in the Department of Home Affairs, the Sunday Times reported.

South Africans would have to pay £63 (nearly R1 000) and provide fingerprints, ”facial biometrics” and travel documents to obtain visas, the newspaper said.

More than 250 000 tourists, business people and family visitors to Britain would have to apply for visas each year.

”The door is being shut because corrupt home affairs officials have been dishing out genuine passports to people-smugglers, foreign asylum seekers and — allegedly — suspected terrorists wanting to enter Britain,” the report said.

As a result, British immigration experts said, the South African passport was ”no longer worth the paper it’s written on”.

South Africa leapt to the top of the British government’s visa ”hit list” last month following a British trial that heard that at least 6 000 illegal Asian immigrants had been smuggled into Britain on South African passports.

Last week Sir Stephen Lander, chairperson of Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency, told Britain’s home affairs committee that the case ”is likely” to lead to visa controls being placed on all South Africans, the Sunday Times said.

British immigration authorities are currently subjecting South Africa, with other countries, to a ”Visa Waiver Test”, expected to end this year.

Experts said South Africa was almost certain to fail on three of the six key criteria due to crime and home affairs corruption.

On Friday, the British Home Office insisted a decision had not been made but admitted that the issues raised by a recent police operation ”will be of concern to both governments”.

Cleo Mosana, spokesperson for Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, acknowledged on Friday that there were ”major issues about the integrity and credibility” of South African passports, the Sunday Times said.

She said South Africa had met Britain to discuss the review.

South Africa was attempting to deal with the passport corruption. — Sapa