New SA visa regulations ‘confusing’, say French travel agents

As new regulations concerning travelling children have come into effect, French tourism professionals think these will deter families from visiting South Africa. A French union of travel agents and a tour operators’ association say the requirements lack clarity, adding that South African departments have ignored them when they expressed their concerns.

Since June 1, foreign children travelling in or out South Africa must carry an unabridged birth certificate when they come from a visa-exempt country. Depending on whom they travel with, additional documents such as an authorisation from the absent parent, copies of the parents’ passports, or a divorce certificate must be shown both at check-in and immigration. These measures are intended to combat child trafficking, says the department.

But it seems as if the new regulations have been lost in translation.

“This law is very confusing to us”, Fabrice Dabouineau, head of Africa travels for the agency Voyageurs du Monde, told the Mail & Guardian from Paris.

“The new regulation was published in English, using South African administrative references and we are struggling to find out what documents it refers to in a French context, said Dabouineau.

He said French citizens have two kinds of birth certificates “and we don’t know which one our clients should carry”.

Dabouineau was uncertain whether his clients should ask for a certified translation or not, which takes around a week to obtain in France and can cost up to R700 per page. 

“What worries me most is that when we asked for clarification from the local embassies and consulates here [in Paris], we hardly got any answer. This gives a disturbing first impression to our clients.”

Family destination

Dabouineau said he believed the confusion was already taking its toll on tourism in South Africa, especially since the country was seen as “family destination”.

Syndicat National des Agents de Voyages (Snav), the French national travel agents union, and tour-operator association Seto, said they had voiced their confusion to the South Africa departments of home affairs and tourism.

Snav CEO Jean-Marc Rozé said they had explained, in an email and letter to the departments, sent on March 23, “why we think these new requirements will prove counterproductive, even if we stand by the South African government’s side when it comes to fighting child trafficking”. 

Rozé said to date, there has been no response from the South African departments.

A spokesperson from home affairs could not immediately be reached for comment, and tourism department director general Victor Tharage said last week there was no record of the correspondence.

Rozé said however they did receive an email from home affairs informing them about the new regulations, but only on the day it came into force, June 1.

The French ministry of foreign affairs suggests that citizens under 18 visiting South Africa need to carry a birth certificate translated either by a certified authority or issued in several languages by a local administration.

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