Review sought over new visa laws

A review panel is needed to revise the new visa regulations which came into effect this week, said Democratic Alliance MP James Vos on Thursday. “I will move a motion in the House to request a debate on the establishment of a review panel to revise the visa regulations that are harmful to the tourism industry, business and ordinary citizens at large. The proposed workshop is simply not enough,” he said in a statement.

“These regulations are problematic and the government on several occasions has tacitly recognised this.”

The regulations require tourists to apply in person at a visitor centre for travel documents, which need to be in English, and that all children must have a birth certificate with full details of both parents.

On Wednesday, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Fatima Chohan announced, following an agreement with Wesgrow, the Western Cape government’s investment arm, that her department would hold a workshop to address the new regulations.

‘Brand damage’

Vos said the DA was calling for a national review of the regulations as promised by the President Jacob Zuma during his State of the Nation Address in February, and later by the Home Affairs Minister, Malusi Gigaba.

He said that a review would help mitigate any further “brand damage and travel cancellations” which all affect the economy.

“It is now common cause both locally and internationally that the stringent new visa regulations introduced this month do nothing to promote tourism, economic growth and job creation in a country which needs all three,” Vos said.

“Nothing less than a full-scale review is warranted to rescue the tourism industry and show responsiveness to the real, legitimate concerns of citizens about the premature and ill-conceived regulations.”

‘Economic sabotage’

The new regulations will hurt an industry that accounts for 9% of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci).

“The negative implications to the tourism industry is counterproductive to the economic development intentions we have as a country,” Sacci president Vusi Khumalo said by phone on Monday. Earlier, the Johannesburg-based chamber described the law as “tantamount to economic sabotage,” in an e-mailed statement.

More than nine million tourists visit South Africa each year. The government is targeting an annual income of R500-billion from tourism by 2020 and 225 000 new jobs as it seeks to cut a 26% unemployment rate. “We don’t see how asking children to get permission for travelling without their parents is economic sabotage,” Department of Home Affairs spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete said by phone. “Those who argue that asking children to ask for consent is economic sabotage need to show us how our economy develops when children don’t get consent to travel.”

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said on May 14 the regulations are deterring tourists from travelling to South Africa. “It would be difficult not to conclude that the visa regulations are having an impact,” he said. “We are worried about it. We cannot sweep it under the carpet.”  He did not provide figures, but the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association, along with the Southern African Travel Agents and the Board of Airline Representatives South Africa, have reported that from May to December last year, the country lost 66 000 foreign tourists as a result of new regulations being introduced by the Department of Home Affairs. “The total direct, indirect and induced impact on the economy in 2014 was a negative R2.6-billion and a potential loss of more than 5 800 jobs,” they reportedly said. – African News Agency, M&G Online reporter

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