Requirements for unabridged birth certificates (UBC) for minors travelling to the country will remain in place for the unforeseeable future, says Tourism Minister, Derek Hanekom.
Speaking to Tourism Update following his budget vote in Parliament he said the lifting of the requirements was a priority for his office that remained in “intense discussions” with the Department of Home Affairs.
“Unlike the issues we had with the in-person visa applications, sorting out of the UBC requires a regulation amendment. We are in discussion to find an appropriate amendment that will give effect to Cabinet’s decision to lift the requirements,” he said. “This process is a joint activity between tourism and home affairs at present and is getting attention.”
Hanekom was, however, loath to give a timeline to the process only stating that the decision to lift the UBC was binding. “It is a Cabinet decision and it must happen,” he said.
He advised travellers to continue travelling with UBCs saying it was uncertain at this stage how long changing the regulation would take.
Earlier, Satsa CEO David Frost said statistics received from SAA estimated an average of 40 people a day were being turned away from traveling to South Africa because of continued confusion surrounding the UBC requirements.
Hanekom acknowledged industry frustration over the matter saying it was receiving attention at the highest level.
The impact of the new visa and UBC requirements was ongoing, said Democratic Alliance shadow minister James Vos.
“More must be done to hold cross-cutting Ministries to account. We cannot have a situation, such as that which occurred whereby Home Affairs issues visa regulations without considering the tourism impact,” he said.
Tourism in 2015 saw an overall decline of 6,8% which is largely being contributed to the impact of the visa regulations and UBC requirements.
“The issue around visa regulations has been partly solved in many of our markets, in some completely solved while in others new challenges are emerging,” said Hanekom. “In China allowing applications to be made by travel agents on behalf of travellers has been hugely positive and the market is rebounding very quickly. China is a key source market and we hope to grow the number of travellers from China to South Africa significantly. In India, for example, the visa regulation remains problematic and the solutions we have implemented have only made a small difference. We continue to work towards finding solutions to address the challenges that exist and those that arise.”
He said capacity around visa facilitations centers was proving to be extremely challenging as well as the issuing of visa’s taking too long.
“If there is uncertainty whether a visa will even be issued or if it is taking too long then one has to understand the business case being made by companies that it is far better to take on business that is a surety,” said Hanekom. “Indian travel companies remain enthusiastic about South Africa. The country has a booming outbound travel market and massive growth potential for us and so it is imperative that we find a solution to the challenges being faced.”
Hanekom reiterated that creating ease of access to South Africa was a priority.
“Our task is to persuade more tourists to choose South Africa for leisure and business travel and to make it as easy as possible for tourists to visit us. We have made progress in implementing Cabinet’s decisions on changes to the immigrations relations, but there is still work to be done.”