Effective since the beginning of this week (1st Jun 2015), South Africa has implemented new immigration rules which are summarised on ENCA website. This affects everyone travelling to South Africa with children and those who need to apply for a South African visa. Child trafficking is being cited as the main reason for the new rules. The South African tourism industry is, however, concerned about possible negative impact on the number of international visitors.
Those who are going to visit South Africa and require a visa will now have to visit a South African embassy in person to apply for the visa and have their fingerprints registered. I don’t know why South Africa can’t issue visas and take fingerprints at the port of entry, as many other countries do. Not everyone live in cities or countries with South African embassy, making Visa application process particularly difficult for many visitors. This rule does not apply to tourist from Visa-exempt countries (shown on the map below).
Even more controversial are rules regarding children, and this applies to visitors from all countries. Children under 18 have to provide unabridged birth certificates, while those travelling without at least one of their parents will also have to provide affidavit (consent) from parent(s) staying home. Still more documents are needed if the parents are divorced, or one of them has died and in other “special circumstances”. Not all countries provide required birth certificates, in which case a separate letter must be issued by a suitable authority. Any birth certificates not in English must come with certified translations. This is a major inconvenience for visitors from Germany, France, Netherlands, Japan, China and other Non-English speaking countries that make the bulk of foreign tourists to the country. These rules also apply to South Africans traveling outside the country who will have to provide the birth certificate for children.
These new regulations will surely see even longer queues especially during mornings when most European flights, including three Airbus 380s, will arrive to Johannesburg. What if a family on international transfer have to collect luggage at JNB? This has happened to me several times. So under the new rules, if travelling with children, but not having necessary documents, the family would not be able to clear the immigration and thus their luggage would be left at the airport in a country they are not even visiting. This is a real problem for many since JNB is major transit hub for the entire Southern Africa region.
These new rules will almost certainly hurt foreign tourism to South Africa, especially families will be likely avoiding to visit the country. International Air Transport Association (IATA) has already asked South Africa to soften their rules, while Air China has postponed flights to Johannesburg originally scheduled to commence this August citing the new rules and the recent xenophobic attacks.
The South African government justifies these new strict rules by saying that 30000 children are trafficked to or from the country each year. This claim is being disputed, however, and whether the new rules will actually curb child trafficking is a valid question.
Nowadays when many other countries are working hard to encourage international tourists, South Africa has chosen the opposite way by new stringent immigration policies. Other African countries should take the advantage of the situation and market now themselves as a family-friendly destination to attract more tourists.