The tourism industry has applauded the changes announced on Friday by the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) tasked with reviewing South Africa’s immigration regulations, but despite this clear victory for the tourism industry, the requirements for travellers with minors remain unclear, especially with regard to children from visa-exempt countries.
The IMC recommended a dispensation in terms of which travellers would be ‘strongly advised’ to bring along a proof of the relationship between the child and the parent or guardian, such as a birth certificate. Immigration officials at the airport can ask for these documents at their discretion in instances where they believe there is a valid case to be made that the child travelling with the adult is not related to them or is a victim of child trafficking.
Mmatšatši Marobe, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), told Tourism Update that the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and the tourism industry would work together in the next three months to determine what should be understood under ‘strongly advised’ to ensure the term wouldn’t lead to ambiguity. Says Marobe: “In the next three months, the DHA will put a legal framework in place and revise the Standard Operating Procedures. They’ll also analyse which kinds of criteria are needed for the documents parents are advised to bring along.”
The airline industry is also awaiting clarification. Chris Zweigenthal, Chief Executive of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa, says further clarifications and specific timelines for all the amendments will need to be introduced. “Broad timelines have been provided but no specific dates have been determined. At this stage, therefore, the current measures remain in place whilst relevant legal instruments are put into place.”
Airlines are also awaiting further information from the DHA before implementing any changes. Carla da Silva, Air Mauritius Regional Manager for Africa and Latin America, says the airline has not received any updates yet with regard to the revised regulations. “Once official communication from the department is received, airlines will update their websites and communicate with all relevant stakeholders,” she says, adding that, to avoid any grey areas, effective communication detailing process of the revised regulations is essential.
Allowing immigration officials to decide at their discretion whether or not travellers need documentation could open the door to corruption and possible requests for bribery. However, both Zweigenthal and Marobe say the DHA has vowed that training will be undertaken for immigration officials to ensure that this is handled well and that the potential for corruption is removed as much as possible.
Once the new regulations are in place, airlines will be able to allow under-age travellers without a birth certificate to board their flights to South Africa, according to Zweigenthal, although he warns that guidelines will need to be clear. He adds that discussions will be necessary to determine who will be responsible for repatriation if immigration officials decide to turn back travellers without birth certificates. “With the initial implementation, fines were not imposed on the airlines, but repatriation was the responsibility of the airline. We will need clarity on this based on the revised regulations.”
Lee-Anne Bac, Director of Grant Thornton Johannesburg, says carrying a proof of relationship when travelling with minors is already common practice globally. She explains that the Border Force in the UK has also outlined that if you are travelling with a child and you are not the child’s parent or may appear not to be the parent (for example, if you have a different family name), it is recommended to carry proof of the relationship. This proof could include copies of a birth or adoption certificate, a marriage certificate if you don’t have the same name or a letter from the child’s parents giving you permission to travel with the child.
“Everybody needs to take a deep breath,” says David Frost, SATSA CEO. He appeals to the travel industry to be patient as the details will be sorted out in time. “Things will get a lot better; just be patient. It’s time to focus on the doughnut and not the hole.”