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DHA Briefing in Implementing Phase 2 of IMC Decisions on the Immigration Regulations

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HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE DHA STAKEHOLDER BRIEFING

On Wednesday 07 December, TBCSA attended a stakeholder briefing session hosted by DHA. The purpose of the session was to report on progress made in the implementation of phase 2 (3 months – 1 year) measures as recommended by the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Immigration in October 2015.

At the time the IMC made the following recommendations:

  • Addition of visa facilitation centres, including in Zimbabwe, UAE and Botswana;
  • Consideration of a visa-waiver for India, China, Russia and other countries;
  • Look at issuing visas on arrival for persons travelling to SA, having in their passports valid visas for the UK, USA and Canada or any other country that applies stringent checks on visitors to their countries;
  • Consider granting frequent African travellers a 10-year Multiple Entry Visitor’s Visa;
  • Open two Business Visa Facilitation Centres in Durban and Port Elizabeth;
  • Print parent’s details in the passports of SA minors, (therefore do not need to carry birth certificates);
  • The term “Unabridged Birth Certificate” (UBC) will be changed to “Birth Certificate” containing parental detail;
  • The DHA issuance of a “Strong Advisory”, with regards to UBC requirements for travellers from Visa Exempt countries.

Highlights of the Progress update on Short-Term Phase measures between 01 Nov 2015 and Oct 2016:

Addition of visa facilitation centres, including in Zimbabwe, UAE and Botswana:
The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and its appointed service provider have to date established 30 Visa Application Centres (VAC) globally, with Botswana and Zimbabwe now fully operational. The Department has also re-assessed and updated its contract with VFS Global to ensure, among other things, that VFS Global expand VAC operations in Senegal, Egypt, Russia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Iran and the Philippines.

Consider a visa-waiver for India, China, Russia and other countries:
On 02 December 2015, a Visa Waiver Agreement for official/service Chinese passport holders was signed during South Africa’s State Visit to China. Also, in addition to the visa exemption for diplomatic/official Russian passport holders; on 18 February 2016, the Minister of Home Affairs, approved the granting of a visa waiver for ordinary passport holders of Russia for a period of 90 days. On 01 November 2016, the above agreement was concluded at a meeting of senior Russian officials. DHA says the agreement promotes tourism, economic development, academic and cultural exchange, and encourages economic development between the nations.

DHA emphasised that the consideration of visa waivers is a business process undertaken through bi-lateral engagements with other governments; where the opportunities are balanced in respect of risk, economic benefit and reciprocity. DHA will therefore continue to prioritise the relaxation of travel requirements accordingly.

Look at issuing visas on arrival for persons travelling to SA having in their passports valid visas for the UK, USA and Canada or any other country that applies stringent checks on visitors to their countries:
The Department has highlighted an underlying complexity with this IMC recommendation – in order to leverage pre-clearance arising from other recognised countries, it implies that DHA would need to have access to their immigration systems and data. The Department’s concern is that such governments would be reluctant to afford such data access.  As such, effort to implement efficient and robust applications continue and are inclusive of finding mutual agreement with other governments and international stakeholders to achieve this.

Consider granting frequent African travellers a 10-year Multiple Entry Visitor’s Visa:
Aimed at promoting movement within Africa, on 29 January 2016, the DHA Minister approved the granting of 10-year multiple entry visas to businesspeople and academics from Africa.

Open two Business Visa Facilitation Centres (VFS) in Durban and Port Elizabeth:
In phase 1 of this implementation, infrastructure and software on the VFS website and its call centre have been developed and updated within existing VACs in Cape Town and Durban. These now offer a dedicated premium service to business clients and corporates.  In phase 2 (expected for February 2017), DHA will collaborate with DTI to introduce purpose built “one-stop processing centres” for investment stakeholders/corporates.

Print parent’s details in passports of South African minors so that they do not have to carry birth certificates:
A prototype of the required amendments in the passports has been developed. The implementation of the passport amendment is still required to align to new Live Capture requirements (includes a testing phase). The implementation date for the roll-out of the passport has been extended beyond the scope of Phase 2 to February 2017, due to its mandatory compliance with the DHA’s Modernisation Release Phases.

The term “Unabridged Birth Certificate” (UBC) will be changed to “Birth Certificate” containing parental detail:
This requirement has been completed.

The DHA issuance of a “Strong Advisory”, with regards to UBC requirements for travellers from Visa Exempt countries:
Under the recommendation of the Immigration Advisory Board (IAB), the wording of the Advisory was opened to public consultation on 16 September until 14 October 2016. A special IAB meeting was held on 26 October 2016 to assess the public comments received. The IAB concluded that it may be inappropriate to implement the Advisory ahead of the upcoming peak season of global travel, and have therefore with-held its implementation until early 2017.

DHA informed stakeholders that the IAB has extended engagement with TBCSA and agreed that matters arising from the briefing held on 21 September (where we presented recommendations to mitigate the unintended consequences from the immigration regulations on tourism) will be brought forward in further engagements with stakeholders, namely DHA, the National Department of Tourism and the IAB.     

Lastly, DHA also gave an update on the following additional priorities:

  • Foreign Students Qualifying for Permanent Residence: Foreign graduates from South African tertiary institutions in the area of critical skills are now able to apply for permanent residence status. This will benefit the local economy in the long term.
  • Critical Skills List Review: The Department of Higher Education and Training is in the process of intensively researching and drafting a list of Occupations in Demand.
  • Biometrics: This programme remains a priority for DHA and have already been implemented at four primary international airports, namely OR Tambo International (ORTIA); Lanseria; Cape Town International and King Shaka International.
  • DHA will also implement the pilot of biometrics at high volume land-ports of entry between December 2016 and March 2017.
  • Austerity: Efficiency of technology that biometrics affords is impeded by austerity measures imposed by National Treasury. This means that no further recruitment of resource capacity is authorised for the foreseeable future. As it stands, any position that is vacated within DHA immediately becomes categorised “vacant and unfunded,” implying that ORTIA is currently operating without a senior manager. It also means that 50% of immigration counters cannot be operational during peak periods, due to limited staff capacity and the need to balance 24-hour shifts.

DHA further expressed concerned on the constraint imposed by substantial media and negative sentiments arising from stakeholders, despite their efforts to modernise and advance the integrity of process at immigration counters.

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